Pros: An expressive story full of emotional range allows the cast to stretch themselves.
Cons: The material is still in development and some may want to wait for the finished product.
Kitchen revolves around Jacinta, a young Brazilian émigré arriving in East London in 1978 to work at a biscuit factory. Jacinta’s British aunt Tracey has taken Jacinta under her wing to help her escape the dangers of life in Brazil. Playwright Gaël Le Cornec uses this scaffold to explore themes around national identity, displacement, heritage, and workers’ rights. That sounds heavy but the characters are richly drawn in a way that shows how universal matters like these embed themselves into everyday problems like being bored at work or falling in love with the wrong person.
Writer Le Cornec also plays young Jacinta, imbuing her with energy, intensity and humour. While it initially seems as though Jacinta will struggle to fit in with the women of the biscuit factory, she soon has them reading Marx and dancing on the conveyor belts, much to the consternation of her employer Mr Jones (Alex Freeborn). As the show unfolds, Freeborn enriches Mr Jones’s officious self-importance as biscuit factory manager with a warmth and introspection that is at first unexpected. There are some touching and very funny scenes between Le Cornec and Freeborn as their characters negotiate the power structure (and blossoming attraction) of their relationship. Jacinta’s aunt Tracey (Claire Lacey) is a good-hearted East End lass whose comfortable, tidy biscuit-factory world gets shaken up by the arrival of her niece. For the first time she confronts what is going on beyond the factory doors, finding an inner strength previously untested. Freeborn and Lacey also enact a very different tenor as a pair of immigration officers in a recurring interrogation scene that counterpoints the comfortable if restive life of the factory community.
Le Cornec and Stonecrabs are still developing the material into a full-length show. Drawn loosely from interviews with Brazilian migrants to Britain, the story’s source in oral histories shines through in its emotional depth. Much of the play is also very topical: immigration is an ever-fraught topic in Britain, there is now as there was then widespread economic dissatisfaction and resultant political disillusionment, and of course the football is on at the moment. Londoners of many stripes will find a piece of themselves represented in this story.
There are areas that still look like early sketches; if they want to develop a full second act, some of the material in the first half may need pruning as the performance runs to an hour and a half already. Tereza Araújo’s presence on stage, though powerful, is enigmatic until what is presently the final scene. Araújo’s storyline is still evolving so it will be interesting to see whether a more balanced sense of her arc will emerge. Director Ben Samuels has done a great job giving dynamism to the staging of a minimalist production, but even so some of the factory scenes feel static because they are repetitive. But if these bits are as yet outlines in pencil, it is already easy to get a sense of what the finished product will be.
Stonecrabs bravely invited us to review a preview of Kitchen despite the show being a work in progress. Given the power of what they’ve created thus far, I can’t wait to see what they do with the material next.
Author: Gaël Le Cornec
Director: Ben Samuels
Producer: Stonecrabs Theatre Company
Designer: Sophie Mosberger
Box Office: 020 7613 7498
Booking Link: http://www.richmix.org.uk/whats-on/event/brasiliance-kitchen/
Booking Until: 6 July 2014