SKY CITY Theatre, Auckland

14/03/2015 - 18/03/2015

Auckland Arts Festival 2015

Production Details

Drama, drums and dessert take centre stage at Auckland Arts Festival 2015, with the New Zealand premiere of South Indian director Roysten Abel’s in toxicating The Kitchen, from Saturday 14 – Wednesday 18 March at SKY CITY Theatre.

The Kitchen tells the story of a husband and wife, who enact a drama without words whilst stirring huge steaming vats of payasam – a traditional Indian dessert. Behind them, under coppery light, twelve drummers beat out a surging rhythm on their sacred mizhavu drums, while the fragrance of aromatic rice wafts through the theatre.  

The surging sounds from the drums, the beautifully lit spectacle on stage and the scents of the spices soon combine to reach a boiling point, delighting a ll the senses, including taste, as the audience is invited to share the payasam afterwards.

It’s a reality cooking show unlike any other, a multi-sensory explosion of taste, sight, smell and sound that involves 100 kilos of rice, sugar, almonds, milk, raisins, cardamom and ghee!

Director Roysten Abel describes The Kitchen as a metaphor for human evolution, juxtaposing the act of cooking with cosmic truths about the universe.

“As the couple cook on stage, they are cooking their souls too. It’s about the journey of life,” he says.

The inspiration for the play came during a visit to the shrine of the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi in Turkey.

Taken to Rumi’s kitchen, Abel says was struck by the scene that used to be enacted there, where the poet, surrounded on a platform by his swirling dervishes, would pray and meditate.

Alongside him, two pots of food were being cooked. Novices, seated on a lower level would not be allowed to eat or drink until their souls had “cook ed”, or were spiritually ready.

“The novices were (figuratively) being cooked, while Rumi and his dervishes were cooking on a cosmic level,” says Abel. “It was the ultimate kitchen!”

Roysten Abel is known globally for his larger than life, grand scale productions. Founder of the Indian Shakespeare Company, he gained international recognition with The Manganiyar Seduction, a production featuring 45 Rajasthan musicians and a set inspired by the Hawa Mahal palace, which was a hit at Auckland Arts Festival 2011.

“Breaking the conventional norms of the theatre… the perfect cocktail, tingling the… senses”– The New Indian Express

The Kitchen   
Saturday 14 March – Sunday 15 March, 8.00pm
Monday 16 March – Wednesday 18 March, 7.00pm
Price: Premium $75.00 | Premium Friend/Conc/Group $69.00 | A Res $65.00 | A Res Friend/Conc/Group $59.00 | B Res $45.00 | B Res Friend/Conc/Group $40.00

Book at Ticketmaster outlets: 
P: 09 970 9700 or 0800 111 999

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Twitter: @Aklfestival

Theatre , Musical ,

1hr 15mins, no interval

Still, meditative and occasionally vibrant

Review by Vanessa Byrnes 15th Mar 2015

Roysten Abel’s The Kitchen is a mesmerizing, sensual and suggestive meditation on what it is to be human. It starts in darkness and gently centres on the Sufi poet Rumi and the provocation: 
If life be a kitchen, and we be the novice
And life’s every turn, an opportunity
For us to look at ourselves.
And even in the other, is the Self – a mirror.

The premise is very simple. A female and male performer (a gorgeous, earthy Mandakini Goswami and sensitive, slightly ethereal Dilip Shankar) each cook a huge pot of payasam (milky, rice dessert) that is offered to the audience afterwards. As they cook, twelve Mizhavu drummers play this sacred instrument with alarming precision. Not once do they miss a beat and the rhythms carry their own secret narratives over the 1 hour 15 minute show. This simplicity is blatantly clear and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. This is frustrating at times as something more really needs to happen; the premise has been set but it doesn’t deliver a clear punchline. I realize the work is trying to be anti-narrative or ‘conventional’ western theatre, but it takes a very patient audience to wait for something extraordinary to happen when it never really does. We are literally watching two pots boil. Are we missing something in the Auckland Festival version? (Dancers? Whirling Dervishes?) Production stills suggest this might be the case.

That’s about it, except for two key things that navigate the ‘drama’. Firstly, within the static picture that has no dialogue or sung text and very little movement, The Kitchen lures us into this still point. It’s like a deep meditation on completing a task (life? Marriage? Cooking?) that is hypnotic, mesmerizing, and evocative of deeper stories. You have to see the ‘dance of the 2 glass bowls’ to understand the capacity of an audience to bring its own imagination to bear on the story. Object metaphor comes alive as the two actors infuse their ‘kitchen’ with emotional substance.

This deep attention and slow movement is annoying at times, but also powerful and highly redolent of larger stories. I begin to wonder: Is this my story I’m reflecting on, or the suggested tale of forbidden love/transgression/connection presented by the two expert performers/cooks/wife and husband? Marriage and relationships seem to be the topics here and that bring up different responses in everyone. I won’t extrapolate my own interpretation further, except to say that the meditative stillness of this piece is its key narrative feature and this requires the audience to be complicit with the performance’s own concepts of time and space. This is extremely polarizing. Some will find this very challenging and others will love the chance to be still for 1 hour 15 minutes. Either way, don’t expect something broadly dynamic and theatrical. It’s like watching a drama that has yet to be fully released.

Secondly, the technical detail in such a simple show is striking. What seems simple is actually very complex. A three-level set designed by Neeraj Sahay and executed by Amarjeet Sharma holds the twelve extraordinary drummers who drive the layers of tension and resolution. This 22.5 foot-high structure replicates the shape of a pot-shaped mizhav drum and is beautifully lit. At times it seems as if their hands are on fire. This takes exceptional skill. The aromas of the payasam tantalize the senses throughout as it is stirred and tended. Eventually the sort-of climax is reached and some kind of resolution is reached by both performers, backed and supported by the twelve expert drummers. I just wanted this technical expertise to be put to better theatrical purpose.

7 kilos of rice, 10 kilos of sugar, 750 grams of almonds, 50 kilos of milk, 700 grams of raisins, 750 grams of cashew nuts, 200 grams of cardamom and 4 kilos of ghee go into making this payasam. But the real ingredients are the audience’s imagination, our patience, and perhaps our capacity to go within ourselves to connect with something bigger. Roysten Abel’s vision to create an essential and contemplative ‘drama’ is salient, but for me it takes something more to really galvanise the drama as something of an international standing.

This is a still, meditative and occasionally vibrant piece that has touches of brilliance and boredom in equal measure, all driven by technical expertise. Challenging to the senses and, at times, our tolerance. Unlike anything you would normally see in Skycity Theatre.


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The Kitchen lacks spice

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth 15th Mar 2015

An intriguing premise for tonight’s show – 12 drummers in a pyramid, a kitchen and a couple cooking the delicious Indian rice pudding that is payasam.

Having seen The Manganiyar Seduction at the 2011 Festival we felt The Kitchen had the potential to be a little gimmicky, a re-packaging of their previously successful formula.

And that’s how things turned out for us – the cooking antics, in almost slow motion, kept our attention for all of 10-minutes before boredom set in. [More]


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