Two cultural highlights this week. I took the Boy to lunch at the Fat Duck for his birthday and The Philosopher and I went to see Jerusalem at the Royal Court. I've been thinking a lot about the function of reviewing lately and this week has clinched it: reading reviews prior to experiencing the subject of the review is a bad, bad idea.
Yes, Fat Duck is fantastic and it's distinctly different from any other restaurant in the UK, but a life changing experience it is not. The best I can think to equate it to is a surprising and rather fun one night stand. You're not having the kind of sex that's going to ruin you from ever wanting to have sex with anyone else ever again, but it's definitely enjoyable. However, if you have to pay £400 for the pleasure of having sex that doesn't rock your world, you're probably not going to rush back anytime soon.
I love food, but I don't cook. This is heresy to lots of foodie people, but I'm not that fussed. I love eating out. It's what I do. So for me the idea of a restaurant whose raison d'etre seems to be to establish yourself as the kind of restaurant people come to once, maybe twice in their lives is completely inane. I don't know if my expectations were too high or whether I had read too many reviews and knew what was coming, but I just expected more. The other problem is that I recently went to a foodie evening at The White Swan, a pub in Clerkenwell. I live practically around the corner and had never heard of this place. The Philosopher found out about an evening they run about once a month - a fine food and wine evening - so along we went. It was absolutely fantastic: delicious food, divine wines, a jaunty sommelier chatted about our wines, and our hosts were angels. I'm sure it has something to do with expectations, given that mine were sub zero going to The White Swan and through the roof at The Fat Duck. Hand on heart, if you handed me a cheque for £500 and said I could pick between the two places for dinner tomorrow night, I'd high tail it straight back to The White Swan.
Heston's gaff is, for me, exactly the opposite of what dining out should be. Going to a restaurant is not first and foremost about the food. It's about the experience and here's where I think The Fat Duck gets it wrong. Heston thinks food is about memories, which is certainly true in many cases. The problem with this is that there should be no place for reminiscing and reliving one's memories in a restaurant. Unless, of course, you're on your own, eating out is above all a shared experience: it's about creating new memories, not reliving old ones. At The Fat Duck, yes the food is delicious, but it should be a restaurant full of tables for one. What's the point of going out to eat with anyone else if you're only interacting with the plate of food in front of you and not your company? Inward looking eating is just plain creepy and it's certainly not the thing for me. I'd take a convivial table full of laughing and conversing friends over a table full of serious-faced sullen cows, ears plugged up with headphones, (yes! headphones! at the table!) any day of the week.
I feel like I've finally learned my lesson. The Philosopher and I went to see Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem at the Royal Court. We bought our tickets ages ago, which was clever going on our part, as the run has been sold out for weeks. I knew it was going to be good: Lloyd Evans doesn't say that a show is among the very best, after having reviewed more than 700 shows for the Speccie, and not mean it. Apart from his review, which gives nothing away, I read nothing else. I wanted the experience of seeing the show to hit me with the full force of its amazingness. And boy did it.
It's not often that I say this, but there is some truly terrific theatre on in London at the minute: Acordia at The Duke's, Phèdre at the National, Winter's Tale at the Old Vic, even Helen at the Globe is pretty fun. Jerusalem wipes the floor with all of them. Do whatever you have to do to get a ticket, this is that good. At 3 hours and 10 minutes, this is one of the longest plays I've ever seen, but perhaps one of the only shows I've ever seen where my attention never wavered. Not once was I aware of time outside the world created by this play. And it is an incredible world, by turns hilarious and witty, yet terrible and cruel. The performances are breath-taking. Mark Rylance in the lead is like no one I've ever seen. Typically, when the lead is so strong the rest of the ensemble pales in comparison, but this cast seems better for having Rylance in their midst and, though I don't often say so, the entire cast are equally sublime.
I wish I could write what the play was about and what I felt about it, but that would be unfair. You need to experience this play. It's the most important thing on stage at the moment. This play is a revelation. It's theatre in its most perfected form and you'd be a fool to miss it.