Home » Reviews » Off West End » The Café, Old Red Lion Theatre (site-specific at The CoffeeWorks Project)

The Café, Old Red Lion Theatre (site-specific at The CoffeeWorks Project)

Ben Aitken
Directed by Josh Roche

★★★★

Pros: An all-round, very strong piece which deftly explores the harmony (or lack of) between self-identity and circumstance.

Cons: I couldn’t see the benefits of making this show site-specific.

Our Verdict: A very absorbing, intriguing narrative which is relevant to anyone living in Britain in 2013.

Courtesy of The Old Red Lion
Although the title refers to a place, this play is about people and the complex factors defining who we are. It delves into the relationship between class, politics, education and culture and pitches a variety of these combinations against each other in a café setting. 
Do you know what your identity is? Any attempt to figure this out usually ends in a series of labels which, if you’re lucky, may feel vaguely accurate. Six different characters work in the café and they all have different goals, different methods of self-motivation and different ways of coping. Mr. Dearing’s idea of a successful business is one which makes as much money as possible (while under pressure from his pregnant wife). Naz is from Turkey and he loves serving great quality food while creating a family feel to the work place. Jimmy is Polish and is learning to speak English. John is quite laddish, smart but not necessarily educated. Rose, an Oxford graduate (with the most deliciously posh accent you’ve ever heard) is applying to work at the cafe. Lastly we have Joe who is probably one of the first people in his family to graduate from university yet works 50 hours a week as a waiter. He isn’t sure why he’s working there – and this is the focal point upon which the narrative revolves.
Everything about this production is strong. The acting is flawless and exceptionally well-cast. Casting in a play like this is extremely important and if any of them had been a couple of years older or younger, it would not have worked quite so well. 
This is a site-specific piece but I wasn’t convinced that it needed to be. For me, the reason you take a play to a location such as this is because there is something about the space which is important to the story. Although vaguely set north of London, it seemed like a rather generic location. The audience weren’t integrated into the piece, there was no smell of coffee and although the lighting needed a professional touch, there was nothing truly unique about the venue to add to the interpretation. 
Ben Aitken is extremely talented in writing social commentary and is capable of expressing the intangible incredibly well. There were some lines which were awkward and the pithiness which was mostly delightful verged on the self-congratulatory at times. However, saying that, it never gets too painful. With minor refinements to the plot (it was a scene too long – and I’m not sure why Rose would be working there) this production could easily be the play which represents our times. It’s very British, very 2013 and very, very good.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!
The Cafe runs at The Old Red Lion theatre (at The Coffeeworks Project on Islington High Street) until Saturday 6th April 2013.
Box Office: 0844 412 4307 or book online

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