views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Does Buddha Eat Haggis?
Etcetera Theatre
5th August 2016


Publicity photograph for Does Buddha Eat Haggis?

Photography © Shay Rowan

When it comes to theatre and family affairs, it tends to either work out brilliantly, or be a car crash. I don't know why, but there's rarely an in between. Does Buddha Eat Haggis? has a promising title, appealing to both my Chinese and Scottish links, but its execution is somewhat disappointing. Helena (Judes Butt) leaves her daughter, Lucy (Georgina Jane) for a Buddhist retreat in Scotland, which is led by a kaftan bedecked teacher, Meadow (Jade Cadby), with two other strange guests (Francesca Tudor Whelan and Jane) already checked in. Now, Butt is Jane's mum is real life, Cadby is in a relationship with the writer Rebecca Pearson, and most if not all of the cast, as well as the director, Hannah Blofield, all seem to live together. You might need to draw yourself a little diagram to follow the dynamic, however it can be simplified into a statement that everyone onstage genuinely adores everyone offstage.

The problem with creating theatre in such a close-knit group is it's much harder to identify each else's weaknesses. The cast and crew all put a lot of enthusiasm into this show and I'm sure are having a whale of a time together, but that doesn't translate into an entertaining piece of theatre and at the end of the day, it's the audience that matters. You can overlook plot holes very easily when it comes to comedy and you can reduce adult relationships to being silly and childish - however the price of doing all this is good jokes, of which there are none. Whilst quite a lot of effort goes into setting up a misunderstanding about a mandala, it doesn't have the payoff to justify it. Tartan, haggis, tam o'shanter caps - none of it is offensive, but equally, no one really cares. Offensive might actually have been better. If you're going to make a Scottish joke, it has to be more current. There doesn't seem to be any reason to set Does Buddha Eat Haggis? in Scotland apart from to allow Cadby to demonstrate a passable generic Scots accent.

If Helena is going to abandon her school-age daughter and jump on what is in all likelihood a ten-hour train up north, I want her to learn something from the retreat apart from how to do the Trance Dance. I think this little number suffers from being introduced at a point where we've all grown tired, yet admittedly the choreography is fun and with a more energised atmosphere, an encore could have gone down well. Apart from the porn reference, the whole show might have fared better had it been targeted at children rather than a grown up audience. The exaggerated expressions, lack of complexity and physicality would all translate well to a kids' show and this is probably where they should focus their efforts next time.

The set design is by far the cleverest part of this production and deserves to be commended. Four plain white storage cubes are used to represent, well, whatever is needed. As Jane's character complains about her mother always moving everything in her bedroom around, pushing the cubes back into their rightful position, they could be any item of bedroom furniture. They later become a train, individual seats, easels - there's something really pleasing about how simple and multipurpose they are in the backdrop of a black box theatre. The simplicity also goes well with the brightly coloured billowing kaftan outfits of the retreat members.

In 35 minutes, you could just about watch two whole episodes of Balamory if you fast-forwarded through the credits, and if I had to spent my time with some excitable "Scottish" lassies, I'd rather spend it with the like of Miss Hoolie, Josie Jump and Penny Pocket. Next time, Pearsons Productions need to invest the time in getting a good idea, structuring it, writing it, doing some rehearsed readings and getting feedback on those, before they launch into a full-blown Camden Fringe production. They might also like to consider that kids' show. There are some praiseworthy aspects to the production, such as the well thought-out set design, the Trance Dance choreography and the cast's obvious passion and commitment to the piece, but sadly that wasn't enough on this occasion.

Does Buddha Eat Haggis? opened on 4th August and runs until 7th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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