Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

16/08/2012 - 25/08/2012

Production Details

What does your food get up to when you’re not looking? 

Find out in the New Zealand premiere of The Pantry Shelf. Team M&M are restaging their award-winning Edinburgh Fringe hit at The Basement theatre from August 16th – 25th 2012. 

The satirical comedy is set on a pantry shelf and all the characters are food products.  It explores branding, genetic engineering and consumerism, but mostly it’s a love triangle between a rebellious Muesli Bar, a shy Bag of Porridge and a sexy Block of Dark Chocolate.

Team M&M are Mark Prebble (Writer/Director) and Marion Shortt (Writer/Actress).   While living in the UK, they premiered The Pantry Shelf at Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  It won the CSPA Fringe Award for Sustainable Production, packed houses and rave reviews:  

“Hillarious… clever… A feast for the eyes – ****” – Three Weeks

“Sharply-written and funny satire ****” – Edinburgh Spotlight

“Thoroughly enjoyable – ****” – Hairline.

Last year they moved back home to New Zealand to restage The Pantry Shelf here. The 2012 season is a new production where Marion leads a talented kiwi cast of Ben Van Lier (Apollo 13: Mission Control), Rita Stone, Matt Halliday and Michelle Blundell (Shortland Street’s Hayley O’Neill).

The production is supported by The Auckland City Council, Whittaker’s, Ecostore, Farro Fresh, Quick Brown Box and Elliot’s Feijoa juice.  The actors all wear big, colourful foam costumes.  Photos are available on request.

According to Mark: 
The play evolved from a monologue Marion performed as a bottle of cough syrup.  As it grew we saw a chance to explore serious issues in a very silly way.  We look at genetic engineering, the ridiculous way food is marketed and who controls what we eat, but from the perspective of how the food itself feels and in the context of a teen-angst love story.  

The Pantry Shelf is presented as a comedy double-bill with N0ughty Girls directed by Hera Dunleavy, devised by Thomas Sainsbury, Elizabeth McMenamin and Chelsea McEwan-Millar.  This promises to be a mouth-watering night of fresh kiwi theatre, filled with all-natural local ingredients.  

Show Info:
The Basement
16th-25th August – 8.30pm
Tickets – $20/$17.50
(double bill discounts available)
09 361 1000 

Marion Shortt - Queenie (the Quinoa, Date & Bark Bar), Beano Beans, Party Girl
Rita Stone - Black Velvet Chocolate, Winter Soup, G.E.O. Tomato
Ben Van Lier - Carlito Corn Chips, Gooey Cough Syrup, Rich Coffee
Matt Halliday - Paul's Porridge, G.E.O. Tomato, Party Man
Michelle Blundell - Wasabi Punch!, Professor Pop, Trim Milk

Lighting Design by Ruby Reihana-Wilson
Set - Mark Prebble, Logan Shortt & Ben Van Lier
Costumes - Marion Shortt   

All’s fare in madcap battle for shoppers’ carts

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 20th Aug 2012

Team M&M are an enterprising Kiwi couple who premiered The Pantry Shelf at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

The international experience has forged an expansive, freewheeling approach that draws inspiration from the absolutely bonkers theatrical traditions that made Danny Boyle’s Olympic Games opening so striking. [More]  


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Rich and fulfilling with unexpected delights and eminently digestible

Review by Lexie Matheson 18th Aug 2012

The programme for The Pantry Shelf suggested that, after the performance, I should go home and talk to my food. I did as I was told and, having experienced both The Pantry Shelf and the early evening ingredient of this eclectic double bill – Thomas Sainsbury et al’s Nøughty Girlsthe aforementioned food was particularly articulate.

The pizza spoke volumes – and is no more. 

It wasn’t so much that I’d missed the point of The Pantry Self but more that I was impressed sufficiently to craft my own post-apocalyptic, gastronomic satire with Poor Pizza as the departing dupe. 

Departed he did.  Successful I was – but not as successful as The Pantry Shelf team. 

The Pantry Shelf was first performed in a tiny temporary theatre space at the 2010 Edinburgh Festival and, we’re reliably informed by the producers, that there was ‘barely enough space for the five actors’, that the food sex had to be toned down and that the whole had to be made ‘more family friendly’. [Reviewed here.]

Tough to create satire with such tangible restrictions but I’m pleased to inform theatre aficionados and gastronomes alike that there is now ample food sex, plenty of space on a most imposing shelf but that, no matter how prissy you might be, this is still a family friendly show even for those contemptible manufacturers of trendy but innutritious victuals whose consciences might well be pricked all the way to the Cayman Islands. 

The Pantry Shelf is a satire, albeit a gentle one. It has a barb, it makes its point but it does so in a delightfully robust and theatrical manner. We’re left in no doubt about the creator’s attitude to branding and labelling, to food content manipulation and to the whole corporate 1% shebang. We agree, of course.

In recent times theatrical satire has proved to be a rarish beast in Aotearoa New Zealand, political satire even more so, with much of our satiric diet being satisfied via social media and syndications of the work of Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and to a lesser extent, Letterman. Quality social satire such is The Pantry Shelf is a welcome theatrical respite from the current bout of navel-gazing and cardy-picking – exceptional though it is – that makes up much of our daily diet of thespian activity. 

For this, Team M&M and your delightfully talented ensemble, much thanks, particularly from those of us who fondly remember Amamus, Theatre Action, Red Mole, Blerta, Troupers Live Theatrix, Splinta, Stiff Glue and the shows produced by members of the Downstage company during  the 1970s. 

It’s worth noting that Robert C. Elliott, author of the seminal work on the subject The Power of Satire: Magic, Ritual, Art, defined satire as holding up to ridicule society’s “vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement.”  He goes on to add that satire is “usually meant to be funny, (while) its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon”and he quotes Northrop Frye, the influential Canadian literary critic and theorist, as saying “in satire, irony is militant.”

S.H.Posinsky, in a 1961 review of Elliott’s book published in Psychoanalytic Quarterly, goes on to add that satire is “notoriously a slippery term”, has evolved from primitive black magic to literary art and that Freud – who would have loved The Pantry Shelf – has more than a bit to say on the subject. 

All this describes The Pantry Shelf to a ‘T’ as there are oodles of social criticism all couched in appropriately gastronomic humour of the finest sort and irony reigns supreme. 

The set is a delight. Huge cans of brightly coloured supermarket product with labels such as Beano Beans and Winter Soup sit next to massive boxes of Diet Sugar Cubes and Granular Flour.  

The key comestibles come to raucous life and we meet the sensuous and self-involved Black Velvet Chocolate (the ever-lovely Rita Stone), an aptly named Wasabi Punch (a scarily angry Michelle Blundell), Carlito Corn Chips (a very funny Ben Van Lier), a down to earth, oat-imbued Paul’s Porridge (a disturbingly straight Matt Halliday) and Queenie, the Quinoa, Date and Bark Bar (a suitably naive Marion Shortt). 

The writers clearly ignored the admonitions of their parents as they have given these delicious characters even more food to play with as all the performers have other, often contrapuntal, minor roles, thus allowing for an expansion of the play’s debate about food content, corporate takeovers, the impact of success on branding, the marketing message, social structures – Breakfast Boulevard is so much more infra dig than Party Food Corner – and the generally acknowledged confidence trick that is at the heart of simple supermarket shopping. There are good guys and villains, the upper crust and the hoi polloi, the richly edible and the downright plastic, the sexy and the straight.

The show is structured around a series of – often short – cameos at the heart of which is a woman called Mandy who is ‘the shopper’ and her ever-present lover Geoff. It is rumoured that the love-making of this strangely omnipresent pair may well be enriched by contributions from inhabitants of our pantry shelf but this theme is left suitably vague, formless enough to imply a late night R18 sequel perhaps – but then again, perhaps not. 

Each of the foodstuffs has a personal reason for wanting to be chosen by Mandy but only Queenie is truly proud of her nutritional value. As her popularity as a snack bar increases and her sales skyrocket, so her manufacturer consistently reduces her nutritional value until she has to face the fact that she has no dietary value at all. Life is, after all, about selling the brand, making a profit, and the nutritional value of the food itself is of no real importance – except to Queenie, that is, and to her small cohort of staunch supporters. 

The Pantry Shelf is rich in tart and pointed social comment and the full house on opening night appreciated every taunt and jibe, which says much for the scripting and the performances because satire of this type can just as easily alienate as it can empower. It’s all a matter of degree; of time and timing.

There’s mutual mastication and romance too, unrequited until the end, when each character gets their comeuppance in an Occupy Supermarket-ish sort of way.

The costumes (Marion Shortt) are simply stupendous. Each is a work of art and it must be acknowledged that, given the relatively small space that is The Basement stage, the actor’s, without exception, manage them with aplomb. Whether clad in box or can or carton there was no sense of discomfort or unease and the actors move freely through the available space which adds considerably to the success of the evening. 

If I were to find myself in Mandy’s supermarket, I’d certainly have a trolley full of all these delicious performances and, without too much coercive marketing, I might even indulge in an extra helping of Black Velvet Chocolate and an additional hit of Wasabi Punch. I’d talk to them of course, because the programme says I must. 

The Pantry Shelf is like an unexpected brunch. It’s rich and fulfilling with more than a few unexpected delights, and it’s eminently digestible. The message works its magic in a largely inoffensive way and will, I suspect, be presented to audiences of the already converted. There’s nothing wrong in this, of course.

The Pantry Shelf is well stocked and open for business. Expect it to appear soon at a fringe festival near you.  


The Power of Satire: Magic, Ritual, Art: by Robert C. Elliott. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960. 300 pp.

S.H.Posinsky; (1961). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 30:445-446


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