Directed by Paul Gilchrist
The Old 505 @ 5 Eliza
5 Eliza Street, Newtown
Season: 2 – 6 February
Note: This review has been written on the basis of a Preview performance.
When Australians consider a life in the Italian countryside, idyllic images flood the forefront of our minds. Less prominent are notions of divisive fascist regimes, struggling farmers, manipulation of tourists and fiery family lives. In Giorgi’s new Australian work, The Poor Kitchen, we see glimpses of the idealised Italian life, yet are forced to reconcile these images with a harsher reality. Through this process, the play serves as an exploration of semblance and reality, as well as discussing the significance of the past to the current day and how we should allow this to determine our personal situation.
A rustic kitchen sets the scene for the show, with a sturdy dining table at its centre. Designed by Rebecca Mills, the presence of the food and traditional utensils transports you directly to the old Italy made of dreams. The pretty details and rustic charm create a warm welcome to an audience nestling into somebody’s home. In no time, we find the space to be filled with rambunctious chatter, cursing and disagreement. Sofia, the farm’s owner, has died and left the property to her Australian niece, Elle. Vittorio has been left in charge of the estate as Sofia’s solicitor, and appears to have dubious intentions. Giulia and Carlo are married and live at the farm, while Carlo has lofty aspirations to develop an organic olive oil business. Anna yearns to move to Australia for a new life – Elle might be her key. Elle is travelling to Italy to assess the farm, hoping to sell it quick and take the money.
In order to traverse the language barriers inherent in this piece, an interesting device is employed whereby the Italians communicate with Elle in a heavy Italian accent, and when they communicate with each other (in “Italian”) the actors speak with their natural Australian accents, as if they are speaking fluent Italian without Elle understanding. This trope is highly effective in conveying the foreign nature of communicating in another tongue, contrasted with the natural vernacular and spirit that springs forth whilst speaking one’s native language. Unfortunately, often the relationships between the characters didn’t quite encompass the familiarity and bond that comes with the territory of family. In some instances, this may be attributed to insufficient depth in the writing of the characters, however there is, of course, a relationship between the writing and the actor’s ability to flesh out the persona on stage. Katrina Rautenberg as Elle seemed to have difficulty with this issue, resulting a relatively surface level exploration of the role. However, Randa Sayed gives a delightful performance as Anna, delivering the comic aspects of Giorgi’s writing with great vigour and warmth. Liam O’Keefe’s lighting design greatly contributes to the evocation of emotion through the work. It is the shift in lighting that indicates when the story enters periods of historic flashback. I found these flashbacks to be relatively abrupt and incongruent to the scheme of the play, however the lighting greatly aided clarity of the time transition.
While some of the execution needs to be honed, the intentions are clear and admirable. Exploration of the themes at hand is pertinent, emphasising the relevance of personal history to the present day, and yet the need to advance from this, continuing one’s personal history in a new direction. Ultimately, the audience is left with a message of hope and the promise of new beginnings…as well as a craving for Italian food.