By Abbie Gallagher
It’s always a joy to return to Limelight on Oxford. Much like the Old Fitz, this venue hosts a wide array of performances of high quality and varying cast sizes. I’ve been fortunate enough to review several productions so far for their 2019 season. Trainspotting, The Realistic Joneses were marvellous and now The Poor Kitchen is the latest in a fabulous lineup. The upstairs venue is currently hosting Josephy K, while Limelight’s Downstairs has been converted into a charming performance space, in this instance a kitchen in rural Italy.
Australian insurance executive Elle (Amy Victoria Brooks) has unexpectedly inherited an olive farm from her mysterious aunt Sofia. Elle travels over, intending to sell the property but instead encounters a very different existence, some quirky personalities and a number of painful family secrets which need to be uncovered if there is to be any hope of healing.
First, the performances of the cast were completely rock solid from all concerned. Amy Victoria Brooks has a beautiful vulnerability as Elle. She captures the journey of a woman thrown into a reality she never expected, wanted or asked for while evoking sympathy from the audience and never portraying Elle as ignorant or unkind. In flashback scenes where she plays Sofia, there’s a clear distinction between the two roles, with enough of the same mannerisms to see the family resemblance. And the scenes where Elle was forcefully encouraged to eat gave me painfully funny flashbacks of my own Italian adventure.
Taylor Buoro steals the show in the role of Anna, a wonderfully warm and brash maid who’s sole objective in life is to move to Australia. With Elle as a potential sponsor in Anna’s mind, she’s researched visa requirements and made a scrapbook of our country.
David Jeffrey as Vittorio/Aldo is a marvel. Even when portraying the most despicable of characters, he manages to charm a smile out of the audience. No matter the production, no matter the role, he is a delightful presence and this case is no different.
Myles Waddell (Carlo/Roberto) and Wendi Lanham (Giulia) are a bit of a double-edged sword. Not in terms of the acting; that aspect is stellar. However, their storyline of a troubled marriage and a difference in business management/eco ideology fell short in terms of air time. The performances are definitely sold it, but this side plot felt rushed and slightly forced from a writing point of view. I would have liked to have seen more from these two fine actors.
The design and direction of the piece is nothing short of masterful. The space is inhibited by size and shape but Julie Baz, as usual, overcomes these hurdles with stride. In a truly insightful and inspired directorial choice, the use of accents represents universality and language barriers. When Italian characters speak English to Elle, they have heavy Italian articulation, but when the same characters are evidently speaking their native tongue to each other, the accents disappear. Additionally, Elle’s sharp business suit creates a striking contrast between the shawls, skirts and overalls of the world she’s entered, one which still has deep seated scars from war and fascism. As Carlo rightly points out, scars which are foreign to Australia in more ways than one.
The Poor Kitchen is a unique and touching piece about secrets, confronting the past and how important the past is in order to move into the future. It’s more than worth your time to check it out.
However, something needs to be said to audience members. My enjoyment of the play was hindered by several members who loudly proclaimed they knew some of the actors and therefore felt entitled to shout out crucial plot points. Nobody is entitled to this, and hopefully future audience members will not have to deal with this rowdy behaviour. Because good theatre, like The Poor Kitchen deserves nothing but respect.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.