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La Cucina dell'Arte - review

La Cucina dell'Arte - review

2016-Auckland-Arts-Festival-Logo

A physical comedy set in the world’s worst restaurant might not be a festival headliner, but that’s no reason to miss it. 

 

Every arts festival serves up a few shows that you should see at any cost: walk across fire, sell your firstborn child, mortgage your soul, just get those tickets. La Cucina dell’Arte is not in this class. Curiously, the modesty of its charms feels like a strength. There’s such a thing as an unfussy, honest good time. With, in this case, virtuoso pizza juggling.

Miniature circus tent. (It gets quite hot, which is not the only reason you might want to dress down). Hard benches. (The show runs a tidy 70 minutes, leaving you fresh for late-evening events or for a relaxed early night; so the hardness of the benches is not such a big deal. Still, taking a cushion wouldn’t be a bad idea.) Cafe tables and a brightly painted circus-style wagon, which will turn out to conceal a wide variety of props. The lights dim to near-blackout, and in the shadows, a shadow moves. A waiter? It strikes a match and tries to light the candle on the nearest table: yes, a waiter. He gabbles nervously at us in something that isn’t quite Italian and in any case isn’t quite audible. This gabble turns out to be a remarkable instrument for communicating emotion. Our poor put-upon semi-competent waiter is the show’s bumbling hero, and by the time he’s managed to get the candle lit, the audience is firmly on his side. We applaud. He waves us away: not yet, not yet. He gestures up at the hitherto-unnoticed chandelier, far, far overhead. It’s a candle chandelier. He brandishes the matches.

The mood: low-tech, low-key, the joke spun out longer than you expect, but funny enough to sustain the duration.

The waiter’s lengthy process of climbing up to the chandelier and lighting it without setting himself on fire or losing all the matches is the show’s first big set piece. It sets the mood: low-tech, low-key, the joke spun out longer than you expect, but funny enough to sustain the duration. Shortly before its end, our waiter’s stern boss arrives on stage. (It’s a good entrance. I won’t spoil it.) The two of them quickly establish a Basil Fawlty/Manuel dynamic, out of which the remainder of the show evolves.

Audience members are dragooned on stage to be cafe customers. (They stay there for the entire show and get subjected to a fair range of indignities; I buttonholed one of them afterwards, and he’d thoroughly enjoyed the experience.) Wine is served. Pizza is made. The making of the pizza is a multiplying fiasco involving ballistic tomatoes and high stakes dough juggling (the other reason for not wearing your best new outfit; the dough and the tomatoes ended up catching a couple of audience members unawares.) (When a bowl of semi-liquid tomato paste turned up a little later, I became quite nervous. No splatter-disasters ensued.)

The highlight of the evening is a plates-spinning-on-poles act which starts out amusing and builds to hilarious. (“They must go through so many plates”, my friend remarked.) As with any really funny sequence in a show like this, it throws an ambiguous light on the rest of the evening: you could respond by complaining that overall, the humour was a little on the mild side. Or, as everyone in my well pleased audience seemed to, you could appreciate the way performers Danny and David Ronaldo pace themselves, and allow engaging character interaction to drive the show.

La Cucina dell’Arte, Circus Renaldo Big Top, Aotea Square, until March 20.

Theatre