Review: The Poor Kitchen (Subtlenuance / The Old 505 Theatre)

subtlenuanceVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Feb 2 – 6, 2016
Playwright: Daniela Giorgi
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Mark Langham, Samantha Meisner, Katrina Rautenberg, Randa Sayed, Benjamin Winckle

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
Elle inherits a farm in Italy, so she flies there with plans to sell up and return with cash for a piece of the Sydney property market. To our Australian sensibilities, the proposition is straightforward, but what Elle experiences is a set of unforeseen and complicated circumstances involving a foreign culture, to which she is intrinsically entwined, by blood and history. Modern life for most of us holds a strange and contradictory duality. We identify with the place and culture that we immediately belong, but are aware also of ties to other faraway places. We think of ourselves as one thing, but are really much more internationally connected than we care to admit. Geographical boundaries are real, but also arbitrary. This is an inconvenient and problematic truth that challenges our inevitably parochial ways of living, one that confronts how we think about migration, ecology and politics, all topics that The Poor Kitchen is keen to tackle. It shatters the “us and them” oppositions set up to justify our capitalism, so we keep it under wraps, choosing to subscribe instead to nationalistic notions of being that our small minds find manageable.

Daniela Giorgi’s script is both thoughtful and insightful. Its narrative can be structured more engagingly, but its attempts at bringing big ideas into a realm of domesticity, and hence intelligibility, are successful. There are colourful characters that keep us entertained, and even though performances are of a good standard, chemistry between actors is sometimes lacking, causing the show to lose tension at various points. Randa Sayed is thoroughly charming as Anna, with an energy and dynamism that light up the stage each time she makes an appearance. In the role of Carlo is Benjamin Winckle, who impresses with a consistent and precise approach in his creation of what is perhaps the most convincing character in the production. Leading lady Katrina Rautenberg is strong when emotions gets intense, but is less effective in portraying the more light-hearted parts of Elle. We take some time to warm up to her, so the events surrounding our protagonist can feel slightly distanced in earlier scenes.

The production’s minimal design is appropriate for the rustic quality it depicts, but sections that take us through dramatic shifts in time require greater atmospheric support from the team of creatives. Paul Gilchrist’s direction makes excellent use of space, and he often finds the best to showcase in each performer, allowing individuals to find their own captivating moments and to deliver a certain level of depth from each personality. The story of The Poor Kitchen is an interesting one, but in its resistance of conventional melodrama, our emotions are kept in check. It is true that family matters can easily cause aggravation, and soap operas all over the world exploit that indulgence, but level-headedness is probably the only means to rid us of those heartaches, so that we may begin to see the bigger picture.

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