Still cooking: Sydney Festival’s The Kitchen

Staged in the Seymour Centre’s wide York Theatre, Sydney Festival’s The Kitchen – directed by Roysten Abel – is full of noise and light, but as a piece of theatre, it is strangely lacking.
The stage is dominated by a large golden tiered frame, seating twelve musicians, drummers, each playing the mizhav, one of the world’s oldest percussion instruments. The frame, like the drum itself, is shaped like a large pot-shaped vessel, and it resounds with the sharp metallic beat of the drums, pounding and resounding with intricate and furious rhythms. In front of the frame sit two cooks, each preparing a giant pot of payasam (a type of kheer), which is later served in the foyer following the performance.

Inspired by the Hindu analogy of the body being a vessel or pot which holds the soul, the way you ‘cook’ and/or mature determining your temperament or personality, the show is about a developing relationship between the two cooks, a kind of love story. Which would have been all well and good, if it had been noticeable or tangible in any way other than an oblique analogy to bodily intimacy and/or sex, dual rhythmic stirring, and furious sideways glances at each other. While the space is dominated by the musicians, so too is your focus, your eye being drawn to their furious playing, the intricate looping rhythms which circle and cross each other, the very audible hum which ripples in the air during the last five minutes as the piece reaches its conclusion.

While I was eagerly looking forwards to this piece, having missed out on tickets to Abel’s The Manganiyar Seduction at the 2010 Festival, it quickly became apparent that one success does not another make. For all the hypnotic patterns in the accompaniment, the fact that it was a piece in which we watched two people prepare food without any real story or emotional connection, ultimately meant that the experience was cheapened and lacking in any tangible source of investment.

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