REVIEW: The Kitchen (Auckland Arts Festival)

The kitchen disappoints

Humdrum [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

The kitchen disappoints
The Kitchen lacks spice

An intriguing premise for tonight’s show – 12 drummers in a pyramid, a kitchen and a couple cooking the delicious Indian rice pudding that is payasam.

Having seen The Manganiyar Seduction at the 2011 Festival we felt The Kitchen had the potential to be a little gimmicky, a re-packaging of their previously successful formula.

And that’s how things turned out for us – the cooking antics, in almost slow motion, kept our attention for all of 10-minutes before boredom set in. We found The Kitchen lacking in soul, storyline and despite the splendid musicianship of the 12-strong Mizhavu drummers, the show had little effect on us – except deep disappointment. The food element of the show, with the two cooks Mandakini Goswami and Dilip Shankar, was probably the biggest let down of the entire production. The laborious stirring and pouring into the large cauldrons on stage was just that – laborious and somewhat boring at times. We failed to see the connection between the food that was being made, the actions in the foreground and the rhythmic drumming taking place in the background. According to the programme, which we only read after the show, the two characters cooking were an estranged couple going through a myriad of emotions akin to the food bubbling in the pots – sorry to say that definitely did not translate on stage.

The early stages of the drumming were more soporific than hypnotic. And while we could appreciate the absolute skill of the musicians, we felt more variety was needed earlier on rather than the slow buildup that we were treated to, resulting in a frenetic drumming finale.

The promise of multi-sensory tapestry of delectable cooking aromas that were meant to engulf the audience and visual storytelling to complete the seductive rhythms never really played out. On the contrary, we were seated quite close to the front and only got the slightest whiff of the caramelised sugar quite early on in the piece. None of the spices such as cardamon or the other condiments like nuts or raisins permeated the theatre at any stage beyond that initial sniff. In fact the steam from the pots seemed to be wafting away from the audience into the faces of the musicians – this could have been easily fixed had they positioned a couple of fans to direct the ‘smells’ that we craved as audience members, wanting to be seduced by this live cooking spectacle.

The lighting for The Kitchen suffers in comparison to The Manganiyar Seduction. This show lacked mood and drama – its repetitive cycle of lights on the musicians, followed by spotlights on soloists and then darkness, didn’t stimulate interest. If the activity in the foreground had been equally mesmerising as the drummers’ performances we wouldn’t have minded the fact that the drummers were half lit for a majority of the evening. Unfortunately this was not the case. So it was only when the magnificent musicians were finally in the spotlight, that the audience finally showed interest.

The movement of the cooks on stage was stilted, constrained and if a story was being told we definitely didn’t get it. The large dramatic set could have been used so much more creatively to greater dramatic effect.

Sadly The Kitchen is a classic case of a good idea not quite realised. As a good friend of mine aptly said, while we stood in the foyer sampling the fruits of the cooks’ labour on stage, “It seemed like a piece of theatre that is still in development”.

At the end of the show the drummers’ skill and expertise was self evident, but let down by the preceding unengaging visual choreography which failed to enhance or transform a musical evening into the desired visual feast.

The tasty helpings of the dessert (payasam) definitely lifted the crowd. However we were expecting our souls to be fed, not just our tummies.

The Kitchen is presented by Can and Abel Theatres and plays at Skycity Theatre until 18 March. Details see Auckland Arts Festival

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