The Poor Kitchen – A vibrant taste of Italy on Oxford Street. (Theatre Review)

The Poor Kitchen

Patina Productions and Limelight on Oxford

Limelight Downstairs 8-26 May You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Clare Hawley

It was Camus who said “Living naturally is never easy.” Or as Elle (Amy Victoria Brooks) cries in The Poor Kitchen “What is this? Scooby Doo?” Daniela Giorgi has a talent for retaining layers of intense meaning inside a disarmingly simple approach couched in direct narrative trajectories. Engaging with enormous themes, such as climate change, spousal abuse, immigration, chaos theory and determinism, Daniela Giorgi spins a beautiful story with The Poor Kitchen whose light comedy and warmth of connection belie the profundity of the themes. Primarily wrapped in her talent for creating strong characters Daniela Giorgi brings tall themes home via small occurrences that have broader explanations. In this way, she espouses a form of chaos theory into her writing, understanding history as more than “one damn fact after another” providing a predictable universe. In The Poor Kitchen, the notion of repreatablility and order is interrupted by a variety of dynamic systems exquisitely sensitive to initial conditions of any existing authority. For Camus this is treated as absurdity. For Daniela Giorgi its just Italian. But just as Camus would argue the only answer to the absurdity of life is to struggle for the realization of one’s project, Daniela Giorgi suggests the same but includes a little farmhouse bread dipped in good olive oil to temper The Real along the way.

While meaning imbues every action in The Poor Kitchen, it does not necessarily follow that systems are reduced to their component parts. Implicit is an understanding that nature is about relationships and patterns for which each part stands. Daniela Giorgi intuits non-local quantum entanglement[1], or the notion that separation of time and space does not leave events independent of each other. In The Poor Kitchen what appears to be vibrant Italian chaos on the surface extends to a joi de vivre born of too little randomness in events. The Poor Kitchen reveals to us the contention that complex systems act deterministically but are not thereby predictable. Rather a circular feedback of sorts exists but can’t be wielded. There is a connection between a pregnancy and the return of the wolves, the sale of a farm and the disappearance of a car, immigration and love of homeland that are complex systemic experiences that are not made clear through explanation or some other grasp for meaning.

In complete simpatico with this understanding is director Julie Baz who delves deep into these ideas as she assembles her cast and works with the narrative trajectory of the play. Set in the new stunning downstairs space of Limelight on Oxford, Julie Baz successfully evokes an expanse inside the intimate. Significant space is given to the kitchen of The Poor Kitchen itself, in a rustic and well-designed set by David Jeffrey. Julie Baz gives some freedom to lighting designer Mehran Mortezaei who creates a strong sense of mood that director and designer collaborate over to make for very effective mood changes inside the unchanged set. As sound designer Julie Baz keeps the tone realistic leaving it to the lights and set to carry the weight of important and significant mood shifts.

However, the real power of The Poor Kitchen is always in its beautifully drawn characters, essential to a proper delivery of Daniela Giorgi’s vision for the text. Amy Victoria Brooks is a wonderful Elle, walking the length and breath of the stage in her search for meaning, clutching at dignity in the absurdity around her. This performance is heavy and light together, weighted when dealing with horrors from her own past, and light when trying to find phone reception or some sort of normalcy in the chaos around her.

As the play moves forward, the character of Anna comes to the fore as a charming but essential commentary on immigration. In a stand out performance by Taylor Buoro, immigration is demystified and our refusals questioned as the stereotype is upended and we are drawn close to a woman who wants to live in another beautiful country. Gifted a writer of Italian descent Taylor Buoro takes full advantage of her well written role and gifts us a heart warming and lovely performance of this delightful character.

Another stand out performance is the softly spoken Myles Waddell as Carlo (and Roberto in flashbacks). In a time when masculinity is being reviewed and reexamined, Daniela Giorgi writes male characters with fascinating and exploratory depth. She’s found a perfect performance for Carlo in Myles Wardell who appears to relish his opportunity to play a philosophizing eco warrior with gentle yet unmistakable strength. Along side this performance is the feisty Giulia performed by Wendi Lanham who also intuits her characters strengths to great effect. She is gifted a very funny, but also very ‘Italian’ character and her performance does justice to the important tone the character sets for the piece.

Rounding out the performances is David Jeffrey stepping in late in the piece with a willingness to play the two ‘villains,’ Vittorio and Aldo. With plenty of comedy at his disposal (David Jeffrey is a stand out comic actor) to make the most of Vittorio, he is able to successfully bring the darkness to the play that results in its transformative gravity.

The Poor Kitchen is a beautifully written play by one of the Sydney theatre scenes great writers brought to life by a team who intuitively understand the power of independent theatre and its connective potential. This production presents a beautiful example of the high standards we have come to expect in Sydney being exacted and presented on a small indie stage. This new found space at Limelight Downstairs is a tremendous success and presents a brand-new opportunity to see theatre in all its intimacy and warm naturalism. It’s a great start to the Limelight Downstairs life as an exciting small theatre space in Sydney.





[1] In their recent book Heart of Darkness (2013), Jeremiah Ostriker and Simon Mitton summarize, with dismay, a conclusion reached by Steven Hawking and Richard Ellis: “Local physical laws are determined by the large-scale structure of the universe. You can read more about this in Peter Saltzstein’s article “Chaos and an unpredictable tomorrow’ in Philosophy Now here.