Set in a backstreet American diner, What’s Cooking? is certainly no second-rate performance. As part of the Fringe season at Nottingham New Theatre, the production is entirely student-run and relatively low budget; but this does not stop writer and director Gary Berezin and his team from delivering a stellar show of professional standard.
With the intention to both amuse and evoke deep-seated emotion, Berezin encourages audience members to appreciate all that they have in their lives and seize every opportunity with the enthusiasm to make it into something worthwhile. The minimalistic scenery of the play, consisting of five chairs and two coffee tables, is a clever choice that allows for the audience to focus on the developing plot and intense facial expressions of every single actor. Adrianna, a bubbly waitress, has been left to manage the diner yet again by her frequently absent boss. The performance opens with Roger and Kate, partners for ten years, seemingly attempting to rekindle a lost spark in their relationship. When Bill and Annie, a youthful but by no means naïve couple, enter to avoid the terrible weather, Adrianna grasps the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine with the couples – for free. As the alcohol gradually kicks in, the conversation turns from an awkward chat into a deep, meaningful exorcism-like discussion of the relationship between Roger and Kate. Truths, shockers and a final, poignant dramatic twist to end with – although rather excessive – leave no room for catharsis, rendering the message of the production unforgettable.
Berezin hence achieves, even surpasses, his vision to provoke thought in the audience regarding the transience of life.
Credit is due to Jessica Prew, whose energy, despite feeling a little forced at times, is undefeatable and augments her portrayal of Adrianna, the lively waitress with covert low self-esteem. She aids Berezin significantly in achieving his goal to demonstrate that no matter how difficult life may be, there is always something to be done about it. However, the most dazzling actress of the performance is Beth Mullen, whose seductive body language, graceful movements and refreshingly realist facial expression capture the dark, manipulative character that is Annie perfectly. She is indispensable to the production, providing a cynical and sinister undertone to certain lines, particularly ones concerning Roger and Kate, that would otherwise be simply humorous. Equally, James McGilloway handled his role as the malicious Greg well, and demonstrated a remarkably raw talent for acting. What’s Cooking? is his first performance at Nottingham New Theatre and he is certainly one to watch this year.
What’s Cooking? is an intelligently put-together production that is highly enjoyable, but at the same time incredibly serious.
Undoubtedly, the most captivating element of the production, disregarding a few small errors in delivering lines and awareness of prop location, is the fact that each character comes with a backstory that is unknown to the audience, but is hinted at. Berezin hence achieves, even surpasses, his vision to provoke thought in the audience regarding the transience of life: we formulate our own backgrounds for the characters based on what remains unsaid. We project our most intimate and secret memories onto the affairs of the character that we share the greatest connection with; whether it be the kindly Roger who just cannot remember that first date with Kate, or the controlling, cunning Annie who toys with power in her relationship with Bill.
What’s Cooking? is an intelligently put-together production that is highly enjoyable, but at the same time incredibly serious. It is impossible to avoid giggling at the struggles of a long term couple, alongside appreciating the good things in life which can be lost in a moment. A fresh, innovative and utterly enchanting performance.
‘What’s Cooking?’ is running at New Theatre until Monday 1st December, for more information see here