Following the highly successful run of “Invincible” at Derby last year, this year, playwright Torben Betts, and the Original Theatre Company, present a new, recently commissioned work, “Caroline’s Kitchen”. Tonight’s opening night at Derby was the first night for a new national tour, with a new cast, which finishes on 13 April 2019 at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
Ostensibly, this is about fictional celebrity chef Caroline Mortimer ( Caroline Langrishe) projecting a veneer of perfect cooking, from a perfect kitchen, in a perfect north London house, with a perfect family. Unsurprisingly, underneath, it is not so. A single set, comprising the eponymous kitchen, dominates throughout, as a family get together provides the crucible for the action.
Betts is a vibrant force in contemporary theatre with a distinguished artistic lineage. In 1999, he was invited to be resident dramatist at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre by Alan Ayckbourn. Ayckbourn in turn had worked as an actor under Brian Rix’s direction. Betts’ himself studied in Liverpool, home of the best social dramatist of the eighties, Alan Bleasdale. His writing combines those former influences in comic farce, with the latter’s dark social satire.
The play is divided into two punchy halves, each around fifty minutes long. Setting the scene, the first half is a little uncertain in its treatment of a well -off celebrity, and her family woes. Few of us have to worry about paparazzi intrusion into our indiscretions during a return from a booze fuelled night out. The competing humiliation of whether the story is to run in the print , or online only, platforms of the Mail on Sunday, are not something that trouble most theatre audiences.
Fortunately Langrishe holds the fort admirably before the cavalry arrives in the shape of her husband Mike (Aiden Gillet). Gillet is the star of the show, fusing the repressed frustrations of John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty, with Richard Wilson’s bombastic, grumpy, Victor Meldrew in a role he clearly revelled in. A retired banker, Mike, is now a golfer and sometime lothario, and dominates the stage with a brilliant character performance.
Jasmyn Banks, as PA Amanda, is feisty and fun, boasting the shortest pair of shorts and the longest pair of legs I have seen in a long time without having to do too much to move the plot along. Son Leo (Tom England) eschews his privileged education to help refugees in Syria, a course of action which may strike a chord in Islington, whereas in Derby, the Syrians come to us.
Elizabeth Boag offers a powerful supporting performance as Sally, an unhinged, cheated – on, wife. James Sutton is strong as odd job man Graeme who admires more than just Caroline’s souffles.
The second half of the show is darker, and more sure footed, pacey, and with some good one liners, the best received of which was Mike’s observation that; “Vegetarianism is Neolithic for shit at hunting”.
Director Alastair Whatley positions the action adroitly with Langrishe the pivot around which all else rotates in a draining, nuanced , entertaining, and hugely satisfying personal performance. The evening combines satire, black comedy, and straight forwards humour in equal measure. A suitably climactic ending was greeted with enthusiastic applause from a very well- attended opening night which augurs well for the tour. If you don’t have a ticket yet – why not?
“Caroline’s Kitchen” plays at Derby until 26th January, then continues on national tour, for details: http://www.originaltheatre.com/portfolio-item/carolines-kitchen/