REVIEW: The Best Cafe in the World (Basement Theatre)

Review by Tim George

Caffeinated Zombies 

Set in the titular Best Cafe in the World after a zombie apocalypse, this story centres around cafe owner Jayden (Jehangir Homavazir), and his friends Sahil (Mo Nasir) and Gabby (Celine Dam).

Jayden has big plans to make the cafe a communal space where people can relax from the nightmare outside.

Trouble arises when news arrives of a new horde heading for the cafe. With time running out, Jayden has to make a choice – stay to safeguard his dream or escape and live.

The Basement Theatre is a place for original concepts and big swings.

Written and directed by Daniel Nisbet, Best Cafe In The World is the definition of a big swing. It does not fully succeed at its goals, but there is an enthusiasm and a sense of scope that is admirable.

Natasha Iyer’s cafe set fills the centre of the stage, marked by the central kiosk with coffee machine and various pieces of mise-en-scene. It is a well-realised piece of work, creating a sense of intimacy and verisimilitude.

Stage right, a table with recording equipment represents the small station where a few hardy presenters (Karishma Grebneff and Bala Murali Shingade) continue a semblance of their profession. 

The show’s story has good bones, and the characters all have understandable motivations. 

But the show complicates its narrative with flashbacks to Jayden’s relationship with original owner Zoe (Grebneff), and cutaways to the news team. 

Isabelle Hoskyn’s lighting strategies ensure these scene transitions are relatively seamless, but it starts to feel like there are a few too many ideas getting in the way of the central story. 

Initially these sequences feel like ways of delivering exposition in a more dynamic way and providing emotional weight – the first flashback adds a pathos to Jayden’s actions in the present – but the play keeps re-using these devices, interrupting the flow of the first part of the show.

As it progresses, the show began to feel unfocused and the use of these devices felt unsuited to the medium. Their repetition was more reminiscent of a film or a TV show, where these sequences could have been integrated through editing.

Once the cafe is threatened by a wave of zombies, the stakes increase and the characters are forced into genuine conflict. This is also the point when the show begins to feel more like a stage show, as the focus is on the central characters and their differing responses to the coming onslaught. 

There is an interesting theme running through the show – rather than the social anxieties zombies usually embody, the undead here feel like a metaphor for Jayden’s obsession for preserving his best cafe dream (and therefore the memory of his lost love). Like the zombies, this dream refuses to die – and threatens everyone he loves.

There are good ideas here, and the cast are game (Shingade gets the biggest laughs as the minimalist customer Brett), but the script feels like it needs another draft to tighten it up. 

The Best Cafe in the World plays Basement Theatre 19-23 July, 2022. 

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