I created an interesting site specific show a while back that was performed at a number of Perth Australia restaurants. It involved an evolving surreal interaction between a waiter and a food critic. It was a non verbal piece and the script was lost years ago. It had 100 cues and I’m going to describe the piece to kinda bring it back to life. It was very successful and the 3 week season undertaken produced a lot of interesting feedback.
I’ll get straight into it and do the explanations afterwards.
Waiter/performer arrives pre-performance dressed in identical garb as other waiters. From kitchen enters and sets empty table.
Food critic arrives and is shown to his table.
[ Costume was tweed sports jacket with elbow patches, shirt and tie.]
Food critic takes out small pad and pen and places them on table.
Fastidiously surveys table, switches position of salt and pepper, vase whatever..
Glances slightly furtively around before surreptitiously extracting a retractable tape measure from his pocket under the table and quite subtly measuring the distance between the edge of the table and the ends of the knife and fork then writing those figures on the pad placed on his right and then using the end of the the tape pushing the ends of the knife and fork a set distance from the edge of the table then, self satisfied at his successful subterfuge he waits.
The waiter passes by and the food critic catches his attention with a raised hand and finger and mimes a menu, opening and closing his palms. The waiter nods and exits, returning with the menu and standing to the food critics right as he studies it.
The food critic points at a dish on the menu, the waiter brightens then remembers that item is not available and conveys that by mimed mumbling and hand movements, [hands palms down, one on top of the other then moved away from each other twice]
The food critic shrugs nonchalantly, studies the menu again and selects a second dish, the waiters reaction is repeated. The second option is not available.
The third selection is, the waiter exits with the menu.
The food critic after a short while [2 /3 mins] on his own realises there is no water on his table .
The waiter is hovering some distance away at the kitchen entrance.
The food critic raises his hand and finger and gets the waiters attention. Mouths the word ‘water’ while miming tipping a glass to his lips.
The waiter looks confused. The food critic repeats his actions.
The waiter, questioning, mouths the word ‘water’ and mimes breaststroke.
The food critic nods affirmatively and shortly afterwards the waiter arrives with water and pours it then departs.
Then follows at least 5 minutes of waiting. The water is sipped, the surroundings are gazed at, but eventually, slowly, the food critic begins to get drowsy, eventually succumbing he nods off sitting.
He remains sleeping for a minute or more before the waiter arrives with his meal and stands beside him, a little bewildered at the situation before clearing his throat [the only vocal sound produced in the performance]
The foot critic snaps awake abruptly, the waiter places the meal and begins to exit.
The foot critic immediately calls him back. The food critic is not satisfied by the aspect of the plate and mimes the turning of the plate. The waiter is surprised but does rotate the plate a couple of degrees and looks at the food critic for confirmation. The food critic is not yet happy and yet again the waiter rotates the plate. Satisfied the critic dismisses the waiter, looks at the meal fondly, then picks up knife and fork and puts first food into mouth. Stops, puts down cutlery and beckons waiter firmly over.
In answer to the waiters inquiring expression the critic places his palms above the meal and mouths, “It’s cold” He does this twice. The waiter, understanding but a little miffed takes the plate and returns to the kitchen with it.
one to two minutes pass
The food critic’s attention is elsewhere as the waiter re-enters the room, walking backwards through the tables, holding a lit candle underneath the plate of food, moving it about under the plate in an attempt to heat the meal.
While other patrons might notice this strange behaviour the food critic does not and the waiter puts the plate down on the table and moves away quickly enough that the food critic does not have time to call him back to rearrange the ‘aspect’ of the plate before he is well away and heading back to the kitchen.
Sighing, the food critic attempts to move his plate in an anticlockwise [or clockwise--who cares?] fashion to find that the plate is indeed very hot.
[Also, because a candle has been used to this effect, the bottom edges of the plate are coated with soot.]
The food critic moves the plate in increments and between these applies his fingertips to his face in contemplative poses.
In doing so he streaks soot across his face very obviously to all but him.
The food critic then eats his main course with due intensity while making occasional notes.
After which the waiter returns, starts at the state of the food critics face but carries on regardless, an inquiring expression from the waiter is answered by a satisfied expression from the food critic who surrenders his plate and again mimes a menu while mouthing the word “Dessert”
The Waiter nods and removes the plate and goes into the kitchen.
The waiter emerges from the kitchen carrying a dessert menu written on a blackboard and does not bring it to the table but catches the food critics attention and holds the menu aloft at a distance of a couple of tables away or at the kitchen entrance.
The food critic squints at the blackboard then reaches into his jacket pocket and brings out a spectacle case which he opens to discover it empty. He pats various pockets fruitlessly then squints again. The waiter looks on expectantly.
The food critic signals that he cannot see the menu, he shows his empty glasses case and his attitude is apologetic yet persistently enquiring.
The waiter’s expression shows he has thought of a solution, he signals the food critic to wait a moment, rests the blackboard where it is and returns to the kitchen.
Returning moments later with a pair of binoculars on a serving platter which he crosses the restaurant with and presents to the food critic, who is momentarily puzzled but then quickly understands.
The waiter then returns to his blackboard and again raises it and the food critic applies the binoculars and studies the menu from across the room.
The food critic lowers the binoculars and mouths the words “Strawberry and Cream” which is one item on the menu. The waiter nods in understanding, mirrors “Strawberry and Cream” and quickly exits with the board to the kitchen.
[NOTE; The binoculars have been rigged to leaves large black circles around the eyes of the user so now the food critic has a face smeared with soot and additionally two large black circles round his eyes while being unaware of this.]
The food critic, oblivious to his condition and also any reaction from other patrons waits in anticipation of dessert.
The waiter re-enters with a large plate on which, placed in the middle is a solitary Strawberry.
The waiter places the plate and turns to go but the food critic stops him and looks at the plate and back at the waiter and mouths the word “Cream”
The waiter does not understand.
The food critic repeats the mouthing the word “Cream” while miming the milking of a cow, then pointing to his plate.
The waiter understands “Oh Cream!” he mouths and quickly exits.
Returning moments later with a pressure cream dispenser, leaning over the table and squirting the smallest dab of cream possible next to the solitary strawberry on the large plate. Turning to go he is stopped by the critic who mouths the word “More” while miming a big pile on top of the strawberry.
The waiter, growing finally frustrated, does as instructed and again turns to go but again is stopped and the ritual of “More” is reenacted.
The waiter then applies a very large blob of cream in the middle of the plate and turns to the food critic for confirmation that it finally is enough.
The food critic is satisfied and dismisses the waiter who walks away but then circles back and while the food critic is poised to attack his pile of cream with a strawberry buried in it it the waiter stealthily administers a final blob of cream from his dispenser from behind the food critic and on top of the food critics head. The waiter then exits.
So now the food critic, is eating cream, finding the strawberry ,cutting it up and using pieces it to shovel cream and eating his absurd dessert with relish unaware that his face is streaked with soot, he has large black circles round his eyes and a medium blob of cream on top of his head in a public place.
Shortly afterwards the waiter passes and the food critic signals for the bill, the waiter indicates that the meal is on the house and the food critic smugly accepts this development. The waiter hovers, the food critic ostentatiously but clumsily shakes the waiters hand while transferring a tip and then saunters self satisfied from the premises unaware of the shocking state of himself.
This was performed in a variety of restaurants for both lunchtime and evening audiences.
Daniel Pearson [My waiter performer and performance partner for this show- I was the critic]
who is English and who I had met at the Halifax Street Performance Festival where he was in the original cast of the duo, ‘Men in Coats’ was/is a talented clown and mime/non vocal performer whose timing and characterisation lent much to the piece.
In one instance someone approached Daniel and told him quite seriously that they had never seen a waiter as disrespectful to a customer as he was.
and on another a patron approached and leaned over me and said.
“I have never seen anyone treat a waiter as rudely as you, You make me very angry, I want to hit you in the head. I have to go for a walk now.”
Strangely both of those people were German tourists. Just saying.....
It was interesting to see how long the theatre could be sustained as ‘invisible’ that is, not recognised as theatre.
Sometimes me falling asleep signalled that there was a contrived element to the situation but often there would be an envelope of time where onlookers might suspect but not have yet confirmed to themselves that what they were seeing was theatre.
The Binoculars were the tipping point.
Before that, even with having fallen asleep, having soot all over my face and my interaction with the waiter being entirely wordless, people still clung to an idea that it could be real.
It was a very interesting experiment. We received a standing ovation from one or two venues and all were applauded.
This could be produced as a performance piece for a festival run or a specific restaurant or made into a short film. The running time in real time is 20 minutes. Props and tech requirements are minimal.