Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 25 – Feb 5, 2023
Playwright: Sabrina Mahfouz
Director: Victor Kalka
Cast: Alice Birbara
Images by Clare Hawley
Her passion for the culinary arts is undeniable, but she talks about her favourite food in the past tense. There is a lot to be unnerved about, in Sabrina Mahfouz’s Chef. A woman is caught between spaces coarse and rarefied, living simultaneously in moments mundane and sacred, for a story that explores issues of class, along with themes about gender. It is a multi-faceted work, with generous doses of abstraction that make for an unpredictable theatrical experience.
Performed by Alice Birbara, under the direction of Victor Kalka, the one-woman show is intricately constructed, especially in terms of the character’s complex emotional condition, and her vacillating mental states. There is an intensity that can feel too unrelenting in the production, but the commitment to authenticity is an admirable one. The difficulty of a traverse stage, when only a single actor is occupying our attention, is successfully addressed by Birbara, who maintains consistent contact, whichever side of the auditorium one finds themself.
Kalka’s set design is palpably accurate, in its evocation of locations relevant to the unnamed woman’s tale. Jasmin Borsovszky’s lights are dynamic and imaginative, effective at providing surprising and gratifying visual variety. Sound by Ryan Devlin bring a sense of drama to the piece, reliable at heightening tension whenever required.
Women are expected to know our way around a kitchen, unless it is a commercial one, with money, status and real power at stake, then we are denied equitable participation, as is the case in every situation where the patriarchy institutes the rules to benefit a privileged few. The word “chef” in French, refers to a leader, a master of their own domain. The woman we meet in the play has all the qualities, and every right, to be the determinant of her own destiny, and an absolute boss in her professional realm, but sadly she is not going to make it on her own.