by Diana Miranda
The stage is flooded in red light, ‘angry-chick’ music plays, and four women (Rachel Ferguson, Kirby Merner, Léonie Crawford and Chloe Pidhoreckyj) are eating what looks like chorizo slices with their faces pierced by disgust, fear, sadness, and anger. I feel like I might be watching the B+15 rated version of Pixars’ Inside Out, specifically the inside of an angry, feminist cannibal. Just when I wonder where Joy is, a frenzied character bursts in (Daisy Kelly, also the playwright), bringing some more food that the group rejects. We discover that it’s the flesh of a banker they’re eating, supposedly as a stand against capitalism. Violet, who kindled the revolutionary spark but is now sat silently, is forced to confess that it was not her rebellious spirit that inspired her but an episode of sexual harassment from the banker, also her former boss.
Their feminist rage, taken to its most visceral point here, seems about right in a world still infused with sexism, homophobia, harassment and other forms of abuse. However, the play doesn’t take itself too seriously. It finds humour in less-than-ideal situations and gets people to laugh along while addressing the elephant in the room. Despite the blood-stained clothes and faces, which feels unnecessary yet oddly accurate, there’s not as much gore as one might think – never mind the axe-murders and the use of a skull to tenderise meat. The events in the play come across with a sense of absurdism that make the tensions fun rather than cringy.
However relevant to the imbalance of power structures, the allegation against capitalism seems somewhat out of place. But it does heighten the friendship at the show’s core when the communist revolution is dismissed in favour of protecting friends and making a case against abuse. Another thing that seems off is how the frenzied friend takes the spotlight when she arrives with more food. Sexual harassment makes Violet feel guilty, which is perhaps why the frenetic cook seems more into the process than she does in the show’s first minutes. Still, it would make sense that Violet takes charge more actively at this point.
Overall, the ensemble of Sixteen Sixty Theatre makes the show their own. Energetic and confident, the performers shine both together and individually. The collaborative nature of the show’s direction is palpable. Together, the gang navigates their friendship, frustrations, and the consequences of their actions. They connect with one another through sardonic murmurs, meaningful looks, and loud fights, making the audience part of it by including witty bits. The show is playful as it walks the audience into a reality that is not a play, but it is play, but it’s not a play. The performers not only break the fourth wall but the ceiling as they lift their eyes to praise Emily Davison, the suffragette who died after throwing herself in front of the King’s horse.
The rhetoric of feminist manifestos has been around for more than a century in the UK and beyond, so audiences can understand the issue in terms of content. But the impact on the emotions, often using controversy, is something trickier to handle. Not for Sixteen Sixty Theatre, though. In Bad Taste brings a series of infiltration strategies to make the heavy talk come across easier. They use different mediums that are both entertaining and amusing: mute sketches, rap-style storytelling, fake news played skillfully with an array of stereotypes, and bits of improvisation squeezed in with such ease that they make this dark comedy authentic and refreshing.
If you’re in a mood for a tasty recipe, add In Bad Taste to the menu. Its theme is not a new dish, but it feels fresh and is made with self-parody. There’s no going wrong with this show; it will bring flavour to a weeknight.
In Bad Taste runs through 24 November.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.