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Caroline's Kitchen loses the plot as Mercury play talks its way into irrelevance

PUBLISHED: 16:04 10 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:04 10 April 2019

Aden Gillett (Mike) and Caroline Langrishe (Caroline Mortimer) in Caroline's Kitchen. Photo: Sam Taylor

Aden Gillett (Mike) and Caroline Langrishe (Caroline Mortimer) in Caroline's Kitchen. Photo: Sam Taylor

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Review: Caroline's Kitchen, by Torben Betts, Original Theatre Company, Colchester Mercury until Saturday April 13

Caroline Langrishe (Caroline Mortimer) in Caroline's Kitchen. Photo: Sam TaylorCaroline Langrishe (Caroline Mortimer) in Caroline's Kitchen. Photo: Sam Taylor

The only problem with really looking forward to a new play is the crushing disappointment when something, which looked a real winner on paper, turns out to be a turkey of the first order when presented on stage.

Sadly, this is the fate of Caroline’s Kitchen. Invincible, writer Torben Betts’ previous play with The Original Theatre Company, had been a wonderful suburban gem – a nicely observed relationship drama not too dissimilar to the world which Alan Ayckbourn inhabits. This is what raised my expectations here.

In Caroline’s Kitchen, set in the home of a famous day-time TV chef, Betts tries the same trick again – although this time with disastrous results. The play opens in a wildly over-the-top way as host Caroline Mortimer (Caroline Langrishe) appears to be delivering an introduction to camera and it never calms down. In fact, it quickly builds. Improbable situation is piled upon improbable situation, as ever more unlikeable people are thrust into the melee, until both cast and audience have no refuge from the frantic shouting.

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It doesn’t help that the play is so wordy and everyone spends every minute talking at and talking over everyone else. It’s a situation which only gets worse when father Mike (Aiden Gillett) returns home from the golf course and has, what is essentially a monologue about his day and then his life and his fears about getting old, while everyone else is talking about something different.

During the second half the whole descends into a farce (literally) with sons, lovers, personal assistants, carpenters and their wives running around the stage waving knives about, shouting at one another without anyone listening – but to what effect?

It’s difficult to see what Torben Betts was trying to achieve here. It’s certainly not a satire on television or fame because the TV personality aspect is merely a backdrop and it’s not an examination of family life either because all the characters are wildly overdrawn grotesques which you would struggle to find real-life counterparts for.

The big problem is you don’t warm to any of the people in this highly dysfunctional family. Betts keeps piling on the childhood trauma, the affairs and later mental illness until the whole thing resembles a hugely over-the-top soap opera – EastEnders reimagined as Acorn Antiques.

During the second half I sat there in the darkened auditorium thinking: “This could have been – should have been – so good. I wonder what Alan Ayckbourn would have done with the same situation? The answer is that he would have sculpted believable characters, given them snappy lines to deliver and had them interact in a way which had some bearing on the world outside. He would have calmed the frenetic pace at times and had them actually listen to one another.

The only message I came away with is that Torben Betts believes all people are incredibly selfish and family life is doomed to failure. This is not something I agree with or can find much supporting evidence for in this play, simply because it’s all so improbable that it doesn’t resemble real life in any form. Hugely disappointing and a terrible waste of some great actors.

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