Ritchie Carter is a chef who sings into cucumbers, is mates with George Clooney, and makes cocktails with washing up detergent and an egg. For one night only, or to be exact, for “four shows this week, four shows next week,” he stars in a live stage show to celebrate ten years of his television programme, The Wonderful World of Food. Without the magic of editing and the buffer of the television screen, Ritchie finds himself exposed, but no more so than with the final reveal of his signature dish, the Honey Fig Gorgonzola Croquembouche.
Phil Enchelmaier’s The Perfect Dish, directed by Dave Barclay, and starring Gerard Lane as Ritchie, is a show within a show and an interesting combination of musical, confession, and stand-up comedy. It soon becomes clear that Ritchie loves a good story, perhaps even more than his food, and he tells these through song and regular dialogue.
At the beginning of the show, Ritchie removes from his apron a photo of his signature dish and holds it up for all to see. Teasingly, the real dessert remains covered by a cloth awaiting its reveal and maybe, one secretly hopes, an audience tasting. Ritchie’s following description of his Croquembouche is passionate and triggers a string of memories. He reminisces about his many women and conversations with the famous, all of which seem a little far-fetched and he knows it. It is with a slip of the tongue that there comes a change of detail in one of his stories, the first hint that it is more than his pride that keeps him from telling the truth.
Throughout the show Ritchie interacts with his audience and often refers to those up in the “balcony.” Far from this, the performance room at The Butterfly Club seats close to just fifty audience members, with the front row seated at his feet. It’s just one of the discrepancies between that which Ritchie describes and what the audience see. The moments that are Ritchie’s reality, part of his show, or a result of his imagination, are often curiously undefined.
The character of Ritchie, despite his bravado, has an endearing self-awareness. It is Lane however that really keeps the audience’s interest. Lane has such an easy, warm demeanour that it is easy to forget that throughout much of the show he is singing, and doing so beautifully. At one point, he cannot find the egg he needs to make his cocktail. At another, the discussions of several women outside the theatre are uncomfortably audible and interrupt Lane’s dialogue. He handles these instances well and both simply become part of the show. In fact, it is in these moments of improvisation that he seems most comfortable, and is at his most humorous.
Accompanying Ritchie is a piano playing mime, on this occasion performed by Enchelmaier who plays the piano with a quiet brilliance. Aside from the mime producing the music so crucial to the work, he is also Ritchie’s sidekick. He supplies a form of affirmation for his fellow performer, someone to literally give him a high-five when the audience’s response to his jokes is less than enthusiastic. That this reassurance should come from someone of a fictional persona, relatively voiceless and in disguise, is perhaps telling of Ritchie’s lack of confidence and even his dubious reality.
Towards the end of the show, Ritchie takes another photo out of the front pocket of his apron for the audience to pass around. Pictured is something that came with great expectation and anticipation, with an ending that was far from sweet. Despite what Ritchie says, it is not of his beloved Croquembouche, but of something that raises as many questions as it supplies answers.
Not surprisingly, Ritchie’s perfect dish and live stage show is not so perfect. The Perfect Dish itself however has more than a few surprises – a little bit of everything in a very digestible form.
The Perfect Dish
Music, book & lyrics Phil Enchelmaier
Director Dave Barclay
Venue: The Butterfly Club | 204 Bank Street, South Melbourne
Dates: Thurs 12 to Sunday 22 November (eight performances Thurs to Sun)
Times: 7.00 pm Thurs – Sat; 6.00 pm Sundays
Tickets: $22 full / $17 concession and for groups of 8 or more