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ROOKIE REVIEW: James Martin

Rookie Reviewer Eirys Morely Jones enjoyed a evening of good food, comedy and music with James Martin. See what she what thought of the show.

When James Martin started his first restaurant, twenty-two years ago, I highly doubt he expected to be in Birmingham’s world renowned Symphony Hall, addressing two thousand avidly attentive fans, in March 2016. As renowned restaurant owner, face of P&O cruises, author of seventeen books and with only three episodes of his decade-long Saturday Kitchen career left, James Martin certainly didn’t have anything to prove. However, he consistently wowed the audience, putty in his hands from the moment he entered with his apron and personalised James Martin tea-towel!

The show included nine mouth-watering recipe demos, the smell that reached the audience making my stomach rumble numerous times! But to call the tour merely a cooking demonstration would be to massively undersell it. The spontaneous interaction between James and his long-term sous-chef Chris was reminiscent of a rehearsed comic double-act. Throughout the evening, James chatted openly and answered audience questions, making me want to be a fly-on-the-wall in his kitchen every day.

The recipes in part one ranged from savoury, a mackerel dish, smoked salmon mousse, and pasta carbonara, to sweet, a perfectly golden soufflé. Evidently a font of culinary genius, James interspersed his instruction with handy tips and cheats, making his own cheese with just milk and lemon juice and using a B&Q blowtorch to grill his mackerel! He concluded the first half with an unbeatable combination, gin and tonic fish and chips. Assisted by smoke, sound and lighting effects he recreated the familiar, wet and windy British seaside scene onstage, the best fish and chips undoubtedly eaten in this uniquely freezing, yet somehow nostalgically enjoyable, atmosphere.

Part two kicked off with a delectably simple butternut squash soup. James created this during a project aiming to improve food quality for patients in NHS hospitals, only eight pence a portion but refusing to sacrifice flavour. It was anecdotes such as this, and how dyslexia-sufferer James failed his school cookery exams, which made the show so inspiring. James’ sarcastic humour, blended with unwavering confidence and dedication to each dish, was an instant winner with the audience, gaining him a well-deserved standing ovation. James skilfully immersed each and every audience member into his culinary sphere, using one lady’s walking stick to spin caramel decoration for his Swiss roll and advising us all on where to purchase onion-chopping goggles! The finale was an unexpected musical extravaganza, James singing and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. He was joined on stage by sous-chef Chris on tambourine, Glynn Purnell on triangle and numerous celebrity friends, including Mary Berry herself, in video footage. The perfect end to an extraordinary show, this performance creating an oddly intimate, unique shared moment within the vast audience. It reminded us, especially at a time of increasing global conflict and political instability, of the immense positive power of good friends, good family and good food.

Eirys Morely Jones is an English and Drama student at University of Birmingham. She was lucky enough to experience a range of both classical and contemporary music from a young age having previously played the cello, piano and currently practising classical singing and musical theatre. She has been involved in solo and choral performances at venues in her hometown of Cardiff, including St David’s Hall and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. She is really interested in the theatricality and emotions evoked during live music and performance and how productions, of any kind, can live help us engage with our own lives and experiences. Eirys is excited to explore the diversity of music and performance offered by Town Hall and Symphony Hall in Birmingham.