Review by Kate Gaul
A kitchen bench on a handsome black and which check floor glows invitingly as we enter the theatre. On closer inspection a pile of scripts litter the opposite part of the room. Madhullikaa Singth enters and begins something preparatory at the kitchen bench. Great – a show where and actor actually cooks - smells and flavours infusing the playing space. But no. This is a prelude to a short play about the woman who has entered. This woman is the grandmother of the speaker, a woman who cooks and who has passed down traditional recipes to her daughter. In particular a signature dish: aam ka achar (green mango pickle). The speaker – the granddaughter of this first woman - does not cook. Here begins a story of love, a celebration of tradition and the tensions within immigrant families and between generations.
Written and directed by Pratha Napgal and performed by Madhullikaa Singh – “My Mother’s Kitchen” interrogates contextually different lives. It’s a smart, beautifully written text. It is intimate with details of place, language and family interwoven with the many contradictions of being mother, daughter, immigrant. How does a young university educated Australian-Indian artist understand the resilience of women who have served families through their domesticity? The monologue is also about the process of writing this play. It becomes a kind of meta-theatrical look at the creative journey. The piles of script and the detailed kitchen bench become pole star for the quest of the speaker (presumably the writer herself although the character is never named). But of course, the production is not about the process cooking and so the kitchen bench becomes a monolith. Its initial metaphoric value is redundant, and the actor spends much time in the more neutral space of the theatre. Working in a traverse theatre (such as the KXT space) is a challenge and it’s easy to fall into a split focus. The director’s instinct is right – the young woman telling this story does not inhabit a kitchen. The designer (uncredited) has created a space which dominates, and the production is hamstrung as a result.
Actor Madhullikaa Singh has a gentle presence. She took her time as grandmother, mother and daughter when called to flip between roles. There is a grace and agency to this work and as an emerging artist one to watch! All a touch too sentimental for some tastes but the final moments of the performance are well tuned to the tone of the production. A woman from the audience is embraced as mother and another as grandmother. They may well be the actual mother and grandmother.
Created by artists at the beginning of their artistic journeys Pratha Napgal is a writer we need to hear more from. Sound Designer Sam Cheng produced some incredibly haunting contributions and I’ll be on the lookout for more of her work too. Tyler Fitzpatrick completes the team with her usual flair as lighting designer.
Another feather in the cap of the Purple Tapeover. Bring on week three!