Review: Jay Rayner – A Night of Food and Agony. Nottingham Playhouse.

A shared experience in a theatre can be like the best dining experience. One can expect to be seated comfortably, agreeably addressed by the establishment and expectations should rise as the courses or acts are enjoyed. The fare should be pleasant, digestible, occasionally flamboyant or challenging to one’s tastes. We all hope that our money has been well invested and for us all to return home happy and replete from our night out on the town. With Observer food critic Jay Rayner on stage at Nottingham Playhouse to serve up an evening’s entertainment, Jay Rayner – A Night of Food and Agony, he is chilli sharp, bitingly wicked, juicy as a bloody steak and more amusing than a restaurant pass chock-a-block with temptingly witty amuse-bouches.

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Like the best of entertainers who use a mix of self degradation coupled with measured but unashamed hauteur in their presentation, Rayner wins his audience within a few seconds of his arrival on stage. After the wild applause has died down he thanks the audience for coming to see him this Saturday night and sets the tone of the evening by announcing that our collective decision to see him perform is “A stunning testament to how little there is going on in Nottingham!”

Rayner’s critiquing criteria relates to a restaurant’s standard of service, their food, décor and the atmosphere. In his stage show he makes the claim that it is the bad reviews that his readers adore and that he, as the critic experiencing the dining disasters first hand, is our dining saviour. He is the man who prevents us wasting our hard earned moolah on a poorly executed Mooli Paratha. From his sage (or is it thymely?) advice we should no longer be shelling out for a bad bouillabaisse that keeps one over friendly with the toilet basin hours after the experience.

Using a mix of projection, film, sound effects and stand up comedy, Jay Rayner takes us through the world of linguistically incorrect and over ambitious menu language, terrible ‘dining hell’ restaurant experiences and cripplingly funny anecdotes of his life and times. His stories are also peppered with spicy back stories about the attitudes of the owners, the management and the lack of knowledge of some staff. More harder hitting are the sometimes appalling politics of the restaurateurs.

Rayner is alone on stage for the first act but he encourages plenty of audience participation through Q&A and this ‘thoroughly nice man’ anticipates our appetite for the second half of jazz and naughty revelations about his late mother Claire Rayner – sex advice columnist and journalist.

The second half is jazzy heaven courtesy of the Jay Rayner Quartet, the songs and tunes are mostly food and drink based. Witty stories about growing up with the popular sex advisor for a mother sit nicely between the numbers. Robert Rickenberg plays Bass, Dave Lewis on Sax and smoky voiced Pat Gordon Smith provides excellent vocals. Rayner himself shows off his piano playing gifts and proves himself a fine musician as well as award winning writer.

Phil Lowe.

Originally written for Nottingham Post.

Phil Lowe also writes a popular food blog as well as theatre critic for East Midlands Theatre.com.

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