Simon Munnery's La Concepta

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

The Edinburgh Fringe is a fertile nursery for inventive off-the-wall ideas, but the sadness is that they rarely have a life beyond August. So hoorah for Simon Munnery for bringing his ‘conceptual restaurant’ La Concepta to London for the next three weeks.

It’s a unique experience that involves ‘all the rigmarole of haut cuisine, but without the shame of eating’. Instead of that troublesome food, patrons – just eight at a time around a single table – are served morsels of art, jokes, riddles and dance.

The setting is an empty store just off once-swinging Carnaby Street, and almost as entertaining as the amuse-bouches Munnery serves up is catching a glimpse the confused or laughing faces of passers-by as they stuggle to take in what’s going on with all those cheap props behind the plate glass.

After collecting tickets from the Soho Theatre, we are greeted outside the venue by Munnery in the role of doorman, signified by a boxing glove, and cracking some of his favourite old doorman jokes. With similar mastery of character, his maitre d’ has an enormous hairbrush moustache, which is slimmed down to a pencil (literally) for the waiter. Meanwhile, the chef struggles with his massive white hat, which he has to work hard to inflate.

There’s more than a touch of Monty Python in all of this: in the absurd pretence of the show, in his unwavering commitment to the stupidity, and in the way high art is playfully smashed into low comedy.

This could very well sit in the Tate, yet it’s still so universally accessible. Each of La Concepta’s non-culinary delights is a tiny work of art, with intricate cardboard props that hide puns and gags and audio installations inside wine glasses that you hold up to your ear to enjoy. Meanwhile, savour Munnery’s words of wisdom as a delicious side dish, especially the impassioned rant about the evil aubergine.

For all the pretence the dishes are mostly just gags, from chicken in a casket to Absence de Melon (a succulent fruit suddenly taken away) or Plat Belgique, which sums up an entire nation on a plate. Swan Medley, ‘served with a great deal of palaver’ becomes a parlour game as we determine which of the ‘hand-curled’ swan facts are true.

The result is great fun; not once are you self-conscious about the unusual set-up, even while wearing a brightly coloured cape, and the density of Munnery’s ideas is impressive. There are more jokes and avant-garde ideas in this 40-minute performance than other comics have in a lifetime. Is it a satire the pretentiousness of on cordon bleu dining? Possibly, but you need no experience of that rarefied world to enjoy the mockery.

The economics of the small audience and bespoke venue mean this isn’t cheap – £15 to £20 a ticket – but it is an experience you’ll remember longer than a good meal.

La Concepta has already won Chortle’s award for innovation this year, but really Munnery deserves the first Michelin star for comedy.

Review date: 10 Oct 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: G3 Kingly Court

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