The Food Show
I attended Keele University from October 1969 to May 1973. For the first three of those years the university was a finalist in the National Student Drama Festival, led in those days by Clive Wolfe. I joined immediately and participated in all three.
The first two were Viet Rock and Paradise Lost, both of which were created and led by Pete Sykes and Bill Alexander. They were physical theatre and far removed from the proscenium arch productions that had preceded them. The latter led to the formation of Keele Peformance Group, which became Rat Theate and for a decade or more carried on the legacy of Jerzy Gratowski.
After Paradise Lost, Bill and Pete were involved in the finals and Derek Love and I took up the mantle with The Marshall McLuhan Food Show. This was physical theatre of a different kind, but also got through to the finals of the NUS Drama Festival, held in 1972 in Bradford.
The show was designed as a series of tableaux arranged as an exhibition which the spectators wandered through and around. It was, I am happy to say, a very early example of full-on multimedia. It had no linear narrative but moved forward through a series of repeated motifs and catchphrases, both verbal and musical.
The show began in darkness to the sound of someone preparing breakfast. This was joined by acoustic guitars, which led to the lights coming up on one stand where a band took the music in a louder, more electric direction. As they got into full swing a second stand became lit. On this four people ate bowls of cornflakes in carefully choreographed motion, in time to the rhythm.
The show progressed through a series of such tableux, including several interview segments in which members of the audience were invited onto a plinth to discuss topics decided from cards filled in by the audience as they entered. This was interspersed with a mixture of projected slides and movies, and taped voices and sounds.
These included a recurring motif that revolved around a group of people playing an interminable game of Formula One, a Waddington’s board game that, perhaps unsurprisingly, never achieved global popularity.
Playing the game inevitably inauguarted a litany of mumbling along the lines of, “I’ve thrown a four so I am changing down and slowing to 120” “OK, I’ll change up and accelerate into the corner”. A series of these were edited and treated and then repeated in a timed sequences at scarcely audible volumes in different parts of the hall.
The show finished with a reprise of the choreographed eating after which the spectators were presented with home made foods. These including Guinness ice-lollies, tomato jelly and hard-boiled eggs covered in chocolate. As people left they were given an individually cultivated bottle of mould. The food was provided by several local supermarkets who had agreed to sponsor the event.
At Bradford the part of the interviewee was seized by Al Beach from John Bull Puncture Repair Kit, who proceeded to attempt to derail the show while we attempted to guide it back to a conclusion. It overran by almost an hour that night.
All my documentation of the production, including slides and audio material, disappeared more than ten years ago, when I moved to Finland. If anyone knows of any material still existing, I would be very grateful for the information.
The image above has been borrowed from Skooldays.com, an amzing site for people who like being amazed by this sort of thing. This link will take you to a detailed description of just how Formula One was played, for those who like the full story.