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Sydney review - The Poor Kitchen: rich entertainment

Above: Myles Waddell and Amy Victoria Brooks. Photo by Clare Hawley

The Poor Kitchen

By Daniela Giorgi

Directed by Julie Baz

A Patina Production

Limelight on Oxford

231 Oxford Street


Season: 8 – 26 May 2019. Bookings:

How much tension can a kitchen hold? Not a lot, especially when there are highly charged Italians, home-made wine and olive oil, a contentious Will and a self-assured beneficiary from Down Under.

This interesting mix of ingredients makes The Poor Kitchen lively and topical contemporary Australian theatre.

The play is set in the kitchen of a small regional farm somewhere in Italy. Elle (Amy Victoria Brooks) has arrived from Australia, having received unexpected news that her aunty has bequeathed the whole property to her, by-passing other local relatives.

Elle is a young, confident administrator in an insurance company. She likes to get things done quickly and hopes to sell the property. The proceeds will really help her back in Australia. How the sale impacts on her distant relatives on the farm who have grown up on, nurtured and loved the land is not of her concern.

Naturally, there is animosity felt by the family. Giulia (Wendi Lanham) is livid about the whole situation and only contains her anger towards Elle by her inability to speak English. But her husband Carlo (Myles Waddell) and others hear her outbursts in vivid colour whilst trying to put on a happy face in front of Elle.

Carlo is the hero in the story. Softly spoken, understanding and an advocate of environmental-friendly farming practices. He loves the land and is avoiding reliance on fertilisers to improve production. He is also nature conscious, concerned about the disappearance of wolves in the forests and the extinction of bees.

Vittorio (David Jeffrey) is the antithesis of Carlo. He is the family advisor/lawyer who sees an opportunity to secure the farm for himself. He argues with Carlo about Italian history and the Mussolini period, despairing at one stage about the choices on the political spectrum: “If I’m not an anarchist, I must be a fascist”.

As Elle encounters stumbling blocks along the way, Vittorio explains that she is in Italy and that’s how things are done.

The counterbalance in the story is Anna (Taylor Buoro). Forever smiling and hospitable, she provides good humour in her quest to emigrate to Australia. She sees Elle as her ‘sponsor’ opportunity and ingratiates herself to Elle.

Beneath the surface, the family has a past involving domestic violence, alcoholism, murder and cover-up. Clever writing by Daniela Giorgi who uses flashback and two characters from a previous generation, Aldo (David Jeffrey) and Roberto (Myles Waddell) to explain how Elle’s father came to live in Australia.

The Poor Kitchen requires good direction, and Julie Baz delivers. She manoeuvres the characters around the stage very cleverly using alternating Italian and Australian accents. This way, the audience knows precisely what the Italian characters are thinking whilst the main player Elle, knows not what they say.

The cast are young, eager and convincing in their roles. No one actor could claim a better performance than another in my view. I thought the character of Elle seemed a little ignorant and naïve of Italian culture and language, considering her Italian heritage. That’s not to say that Amy Victoria Brooks did anything other than depict the character perfectly.

The set is homely and detailed, and the stage is close to the audience. It’s almost as if we are sitting at the table with the ‘family’.

The Poor Kitchen is a story that resonates with many migrant families who chose Australia as their new home after World War Two. There are a few messages in the story about the environment, democracy, migration and Australia’s immigration policy. But on a lighter side, there is a constant reference to good pasta, olive oil and wine. So, one leaves the theatre feeling optimistic, contented, hungry and thirsty!

It’s a good thing that the Limelight has a bar on site.

The Poor Kitchen is rich entertainment.

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