Paul T Davies reviews Original Theatre Company's production of Caroline's Kitchen by Torben Betts at the Mercury Theatre Colchester.
Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
9 April 2019
Original Theatre Company brings this new play by Torben Betts to the Mercury Theatre. Caroline Mortimer is a successful TV chef, her programme broadcast live from her kitchen. She is a Christian and her politics are to the right, but everyone in the family has secrets. Caroline is having an affair with her builder, Graham, her husband Michael has just confessed to an affair, her son is, (shock horror), gay and needs to come out to his Dad. But that’s just the surface, every single character in this play walks on with piles of emotional baggage, and Bett’s script hails back to the 1970s, women are referred to as, “bits of crumpet”, and Michael’s character gives allowance for everything seen as stereotypically lefty to be attacked, from caring about Syria to veganism. Plus, the plot is entirely predictable. The main problem is, however, is that for us to feel anything for the characters, we have to feel some sympathy for them when the comedy darkens. Every character is so dislikeable, that it was hard to care about anything except when this play would end.
Director Alastair Whatley appears to have given the cast one note, which is to shout very loudly. It begins at high volume, and never lets up, so we go on no journey with the characters. Both Caroline Langshire, (Caroline), and Aden Gillett, (Michael), can be heard clearly when they stop shouting, in fact we hear them more when they are not screaming at high pitch, but everyone else then gets in on the act. Everyone casually mentions their problems, gesticulates wildly and embark way over the top. I don’t know what offended me most, the tired trope of being gay a “problem”, (Michael shouts at his son, Leo, “Gay?? But you loved rugby!” totally ignoring the fine and inspiring example of Gareth Thomas), or the casual use of mental illness as a plot device. The signs aren’t good when, in the first act, Caroline’s PR, Amanda, talks about her mother dying of MS and Caroline “hilariously” mixes it up with ME, “Isn’t that the one when you can’t get out of bed?” It’s never referred to again and totally unnecessary as a “joke”.
Graham’s wife, Sally, turns up to confront Caroline, a good performance by Elizabeth Boag, who, despite being up against appalling stereotyping, manages to give the character some depth. As every character has to divulge huge amounts of back story and motivation, she reveals her twin brother served in Afghanistan and killed himself one week after coming home, she had a breakdown and was sectioned and shouldn’t really mix her tablets with alcohol. She then gets hold of a knife and we see the working class, mentally fragile, character, on the attack. It’s a stereotypical trope.
For a minute, as Caroline asks her family to be nicer to each other as God sends thunder and lightning down to punish them, I wondered if this was all a comment on Brexit. After all, we see Right and Left screaming at each other every day, and a compromise is being called for. Sadly, the play just isn’t that clever enough. To be fair, Betts is a very good technician, and he does pay off every situation he sets up rapidly and to the overall delight of most of the audience. But there’s nothing here that will get younger people into the theatre, and in 2019 this script felt hideously dated.
Until 13 April