Pass the Spoon (4 stars)

Pass the Spoon

Shrigley's food-based opera aims for pure entertainment and succeeds

The most David Shrigley has claimed of Pass the Spoon is that it's meant to be entertaining. It’s mock-modesty, but in Shrigley & Co's defence, they've succeeded. The plot, for there is one, is like a mash-up of Ready Steady Cook and Terry & June filtered through a haze of magic mushrooms. June Spoon (Pauline Knowles) and Philip Fork (Stewart Cairns) are our hosts for the evening, and they're expecting a special guest for dinner, Mr Granules. But what should they cook? And will Mr Granules' appetite get the better of him? Oh dear me, yes.

Anyone could be forgiven for not taking seriously an opera that features a singing turd, an emotional high point in which the audience is made to feel sorry for root vegetables and a seven-foot banana bellowing up a man's arse. Theatre company Magnetic North call it a 'sort-of opera', which seems needlessly defensive. Shrigley's libretto is charmingly absurd, gleefully grabbing and running with operatic conventions such as pointless repetition and soaring arias.

David Fennessy's score matches its comic aggression and adds a layer of fascinating sub-surface detail, what with scurrying violin runs, unexpected woodwind sonorities, innovative use of a rubbed balloon and 'Für Elise' as if played on a stuck record – a musical joke that goes back to early Hindemith, but still funny. Fennessy courts pastiche without ever becoming, as it were, co-dependent with it. The cast and orchestra are excellent, the most compelling role being the Butcher, at once mellifluous, spooky and infantile. Peter Van Hulle sings it with menacing beauty.

Shrigley on paper or in a gallery can be very funny, but the page and the gallery have a silence that conveys an edge of threat, which turns out to be slightly blunted in live action. The presence of actors makes it more rollicking than challenging. But we were promised entertainment, and even Shrigley-lite is triumphantly, daftly entertaining.

Tramway, Glasgow, until Sat 19 Nov.

Elsewhere on the web