Pass The Spoon has been described as an opera about food created by artist David Shrigley, composer David Fennessy and director Nicholas Bone of Magnetic North Theatre. This may seem a little intriguing already but take a minute to digest that first name and you can predict it’s going to get a whole lot stranger.
Trying to put the ‘opera’ into some kind of understandable context is challenging so considering Shrigley’s ubiquitous art work should make it slightly clearer. But then you think of the odd little drawings and again you find difficulty in pinning down precisely the bizarre humour and charm that makes his work appeal so widely. Shrigley shows an ability to find the farcical in the mundane and has an inexplicable sense of humour shot through with morbidity. Therefore any concise explanation of Pass the Spoon would always elude me. I can only sum up my pre-performance thoughts as ‘weird shit was going to happen’.
Attending the second showing on Friday 18th, I joined a swathe of urbane theatre-goers who filtered into Tramway with a quiet, sophisticated buzz. Yes, I felt unequal in my lack of horn-rimmed spectacles and air of intellectual superiority but I suppose we found common ground in our anticipation.
The set comprised of a cooking unit as seen on crappy food shows, a very large fridge and a bunch of foamy-looking vegetables puppets. It all began with the entrance of June Spoon and Philip Fork, our hosts for the night who led us through the tribulations of preparing a meal for their guest, Mr Granules.
From here on in, a variety of unlikely situations arose and the audience were transported to a surreal episode of Ready, Steady, Cook with terrified vegetables who want to escape the death that awaits them in the soup pot, depressed alcoholic eggs, a dramatic butcher-Jesus and a moustachioed man in a banana suit carrying a brief case. It was all truly, wonderfully baffling.
David Shrigley calls it a “sort of opera”. The lyrics are plain and simple – they describe certain acts and intentions which makes Pass The Spoon similar to conventional opera. What is different though is the subject matter – normal operas do not usually contain the words: “Everybody will turn to shit, from an arse you will emit”.
Inventive writing aside, the visuals were attractive and daring. The costumes were simple, using bright colours and linear shapes – it’s as if they really were a Shrigley drawing brought to life. Loud and childish in appearance, Mr Granules was a lolloping giant who was so big and ungainly that his entrance warranted the biggest laugh of the performance.
It was then perhaps humour that was the biggest draw to Pass The Spoon, as there were many moments that were just naturally entertaining. There was a joyous celebration of slapstick seen through the range of characters – performers took on the spirit of the foods by adapting an odd walk or affected accent. Simple pleasure it may have been but as with all of Shrigley’s work, there was added unease to the jokes, the creation of a fine balance between hilarity and disgust. The faces of the vegetable puppets were endearing and funny as they saw death loom ahead – Shrigley manages to make the audience delight in the death of another and whether it’s a fictional turnip or not, it still feels inherently disturbing. Integral to this atmosphere was the Red Note Orchestra who used screeching flutes and ominous, roaring cello to give a sense of lurking horror to the performance.
Pass The Spoon was always going to be bizarre and funny. What was questioned though was whether it would be taken seriously and not just ride on the back of Shrigley’s past success. I remain unsure about the latter, my cynicism just won’t allow me to see past his recent venture into coffee table book territory. It has to be remembered (but will probably be forgotten) that this was a joint effort and it’s through the music, cast and direction that everything comes together to create a performance that perfectly demonstrates the power of physical comedy and the delight in the unexpected.
Words by Megan Donald