08
Dec
18

Crunch Time

 

Crunch Time

Metro Arts & Counterpilot

TAFE South Brisbane Norman Price Theatre

December 5 – 15 2018

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

In a dark chamber at the Norman Price Theatre, South Brisbane TAFE, seven diners including myself are seated at a table. The surface undulates with a virtual table cloth, projected from technology above. Waiters stand at attention against dark walls, and director Nathan Sibthorpe sits at a computer console nearby. Some diners have come together, however mostly we’re strangers, and we attempt awkward introductions and polite chit-chat as we wait.

 

The Good The Bad and The Ugly by Morricone underscores a sudden flurry of animated activity on the table. The pre-recorded voice of Lauren Jackson explains the rules of the game. We’re given tokens; a ‘tick in a box’ – a branded icon of Crunch Time created on a 3D printer. The projector throws selections upon the table, and we place our tokens on our respective choices, the system then calculating our consensus. We’re told the majority have voted for sparkling water. We then vote similarly on red wine, white wine, or beer.

 

Images of a commercial kitchen appear in virtual plates on the table, and we’re introduced to the guest, and self-confessed mediocre cook, Fiona Ward, a manager with Queensland Performing Arts Centre. She tells us that she’s eight metres away in a kitchen ready to prepare our meals. While charming and impromptu, she reads as if unrehearsed, from either cue cards or teleprompt off-camera. Her dialogue, deliberately scripted and superficial, as if to reference the banal discourse of Australian TV cooking shows such as Huey’s Cooking Adventures, and Good Chef Bad Chef.

 

We vote on the ingredients for a starter, ultimately settling on egg, rice paper rolls, corn, coriander and soy sauce. Ingredients are then submitted to the kitchen for a sort of mystery box test for Ward, (who has helpers) while, Jackson’s voice-over coldly asks us at random about our food experiences, expectations, favourite foods, and allergies. We’re then presented with our dishes, and dine on the creations of our democratic making. The structure is then repeated over five courses.

 

Uniquely immersive and as an interactive dining experience, this is a slick, digital confluence of a board game, a game show, and a reality cooking show. As a participant it’s not hard to imagine the concept’s possibilities if applied to broader domestic, and consumer products like a restaurant, or a home entertainment system.

 

Execution of the sound engineering and multi-media technology are of the highest order, extremely clever and genuinely exciting to engage with. Participants seemed to genuinely enjoy the evening. However, as there were no conventional narrative or dramatic elements, the content and strength of the show is reliant, in part, on the diner’s social skills and interactions to fill gaps. With Jackson’s pre-recorded voice over, and Ward’s teleprompter live-feed, diners turn inward to escape the game’s digital isolation and superficial, consumer cultural aspects.

 

Subsequent dishes, again democratically elected by us, included a pumpkin and coconut cream mash with paprika chickpeas and carrot, seasoned beef strips with rosemary and couscous, a deconstructed Hawaiian pizza, and a Kahlua, liquorice and ice cream thickshake. Meanwhile, we’re treated to a fantastic sound system of eclectic music: Jazz, Beethoven’s 9th, Chopin’s Waltz in C# Minor, Verdi’s’ Requiem.

 

The food is lacklustre, and no offence to Ward; we know she’s chosen for political reasons. The program blurb says each performance has nominated a particular individual from a sphere of political or artistic influence to play cook. However, for this reason she is underutilised, relegated to the kitchen, reading meaninglessly from cue cards, and preparing our meals without political contribution. Given the old maxim one should never discuss politics at the dinner table, I concede this was avoided at risk of being divisive and unfun. Nevertheless, here we are, at a show which purports to be premised on dining and the politics of modern democracy. Neither of which are boldly executed.   

 

The main character here is the technology, and Crunch Time feels like a pilot concept with the capability of sitting within a much greater dramatic idea. Rather than a conventional show, it’s more a vehicle showcasing the potential of the interactive technology, which was truly mesmerising. However, with some better plotting, and dramaturgy, the structure could be lifted from its monotonous and predictable repetition, in which participants are busied answering arbitrary questions about capsicum or dill.

 

Going over two hours, the experience could’ve been shorter with fewer courses, and with more activities that facilitated interaction and debate. While the show’s underpinning influences may have been political tribalism and the disillusion of democracy, those concepts were seemingly absent.

 

In his program note, Director, Nathan Sibthorpe describes the catalyst for Crunch Time, “…we saw general populations vote for Trump, Brexit and the return of One Nation. I was deeply shocked by all three. I couldn’t find anyone in my immediate community who supported these ideologies!”

 

At one point during the evening, a diner confessed to having a dairy intolerance, even sharing her medication as proof. Nevertheless, the group, unempathetic to her appeals, voted for cheddar. What does this say about democracy? About us? Sibthorpe opines, “…democracy demands that we listen to the people that we don’t know. It demands we cooperate. Try to understand. At the end of the day, we’re all eating at the same table and we all have to eat!”

 

While foreshadowing a change in the way we understand theatre, Crunch Time is a terrific concept show. While seemingly dishing up consumer friendly fluff, it poses a foreboding conundrum about the underpinning narcissism lurking behind the veil of democracy.


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