Curry is in crisis. There aren’t enough chefs and our immigration rules are keeping them out. But, judging by the picture painted by The Chef Show, that’s nothing compared to the customers.
It’s Saturday night in Abdul’s, a curry house in a village somewhere in the North. The eponymous Abdul presides over his kingdom like a benevolent despot while his son Khalid looks on in desperation.
Abdul arrived in the UK from Sylhet in Bangladesh with £12 in his pocket. He laboured in other kitchens before starting his own place 20 years ago. One of the many things you learn during the show is that nearly all our Indian restaurants are run by Sylhetis. During the First World War the stokers on British warships were all from Sylhet; a couple of them jumped ship in London and set up a café for their shipmates, and the rest is history.
Khalid is desperate to bring the restaurant up to date, as well as being worried about his father’s failing health, but his Dad just won’t let go. He loves the customers too much. And what customers. The middle-aged couple on a first date following their respective divorces, paralysed by the unfamiliar situation; the controlling doctor and his wife who hates spicy food and always has a korma, but this time insists on ordering something she’s going to loathe; the man who orders two meals although he’s on his own; and of course, a hen party as well as a host of vile abusive drunks.
Rohit Gokani and Kamal Kaan bring all these characters to life with great skill, style and humour and a dazzling seamless rapidity – all of which is a tribute to the direction of Stefan Escreet, who had the idea for the show and commissioned it from Bradford-based writer Nick Ahad.
In the background, you can’t fail to notice a real chef, working away – not least because of the delicious smell – and occasionally the actors drop out of role to talk to the chef (drawn from a local restaurant) about what he’s cooking and the story of his food. If there is a weak point in the show it’s the tentative nature of these exchanges, entirely understandable because of the short rehearsal time but the chef was perfectly confident and his food was delicious. As an audience member, you get to eat a typical dish in the interval and, at the finish, a ‘staff curry’, which is what the employees receive at the end of the night and is more like home cooking.
This is my favourite kind of show. Not only are you entertained by some terrific acting and a good story, but you learn a lot such as how to do Punjabi dancing and what ‘bhai’ and ‘beta’ mean. And you get to eat the show.
The audience was an Arts Council diversity wet dream, which, in these peculiar times, can only be good.
And what’s not to like, you might ask? Nothing at all. The show is touring the North West until February 12, 2017. Catch it while you can, but hopefully it will be back. It certainly deserves to be.