Those unfamiliar with the work of experimental theatre maker Mamoru Iriguchi would be forgiven for expecting this to be a straightforward children’s show. Setting out to teach little ones about the food web (nature’s network of food chains: who eats who?) and our digestive system, Eaten appears at first blush to be a typical blend of education and entertainment – complete with an oversized lion suit. But Iriguchi—a maverick thinker with many awards for his inventive takes on performance, set design and costume—has always had loftier aims. On this occasion, though, his eyes might be bigger than his stomach.
Guided at first by our well-spoken narrator Suzi (Cunningham), we are soon introduced to Lionel McLion (Iriguchi) who has just eaten a human man (also Iriguchi, talking out of McLion’s mouth). This becomes a jumping off point for tackling the seemingly unfeeling carnivorism of the animal kingdom. But despite opening with McLion confessing dreams of becoming a vegetarian, Eaten has no pro-veggie agenda. Lions have to eat meat to survive, biologically. That meat was once a cow that ate plants, etc.. Thus the show ambitiously seeks to explain the cyclical, interconnected nature of the food web, all to a bunch of six-year-olds.
And to its credit, we’re mostly on board. The kids love the lion’s antics and the adults laugh at the imaginative staging (Iriguchi’s created a Swiss Army Knife of a costume, procuring prop after prop from within its padding). And a scene about digestive health—chaired by the brown-clad Dr. Poo of Pooniversity—avoids cheap laughs thanks to its taboo-breaking frankness. But the show’s uncompromising commitment to explaining its myriad concepts—though bearing an admirable lack of talking-down—risks losing (or confusing) that restless target audience.