Captured, blinded, force-fed then drowned. The fate of the ortolan, a songbird long revered as a gastronomic delicacy, is a compact example of humanity’s capacity for cruelty in pursuit of a perceived higher goal.
It is fitting then that a reenactment of its consumption features in Trash Cuisine, Belarus Free Theatre’s hard-hitting and harrowing ‘cook’s tour’ of capital punishment and persecution. Making chilling use of verbatim first-hand accounts, the performers employ mime, choreography, operatic arias and the darkest of humour to highlight the ease with which the scales of justice can lose their sense of balance and crash down on the side of atrocity.
The culinary metaphor is used throughout. Executioners compare technique over strawberries and champagne, handfuls of flour explode in the air as methods of killing are turned into balletic moves and – most disturbingly of all – fine cuts of meat are sliced and flash-fried as an account of ethnic cleansing and infanticide unfolds.
The metaphor also stops the piece becoming condescending or patronising. By contrasting the transient pleasures of food with the horrors being represented onstage, we are left to ponder what is disposable and what is precious, rather than having any such message forced down our throats.
Belarus Free Theatre’s imagination and presence also steer the piece away from lecture, instead turning it into an expressive and gripping serving of theatre from a company at the height of its power.
Trash Cuisine is at the Pleasance Grand at 15:30 until 26 Aug