Review …Onto the stage, for Roysten Abel’s latest production, The Kitchen

Is the act of cooking one of performance too? This is a question that is usually confined to fine dining circles, but Roysten Abel took it out of the kitchen and onto the stage in his new production. And that’s not the only troubling and pertinent question that he asks. The Kitchen is a thought-provoking piece. It’s not a play; Abel takes pains to describe it as a performance piece.

There’s no dialogue; none discernable anyway, and the stage is dominated by one massive installation featuring twelve lungi-clad men.

Even so, it premiered to four sold out shows at Ranga Shankara.

Why Ranga Shankara is something that’s easier to answer. The production, by virtue of its nature, required an intimate setting that still allowed for the grandeur of a spectacle. And a spectacle it was! The buzz that surrounded this two-actor production materialised into a bursting-at-the-seams theatre as the 70-minute production slowly unravelled to a climax that, true to its promise, was a toast to all the senses.

The Kitchen featured Vipin Bhardwaj and Savita Rani as a couple at odds who reconcile in the process of making paal payasam. A dozen mizhav players provided musical accompaniment to the tantalising aromas that wafted through the space. A description of the production does it no justice, however.

It is something that must be experienced-watching won’t suffice either. It’s a journey that you undertake, as an individual and as a member of the collective.

And at times, it’s voyeuristic. Looking in from the outside at a couple’s private tribulations in an intrinsically personal space makes one immensely uncomfortable, however engrossing.

But that’s alright, because when the on-stage performance ends, they invite you in, to partake of their payasam and their warmth. That’s the beauty of The Kitchen. There are no boundaries and no fourth wall.

Even as a member of the audience, one is a part of the performance.

Vipin and Savita excelled in their roles, managing to talk without saying anything. They betrayed no signs of acting — a malignancy in most plays.

Their movements, whether in tandem or discordant, were poetic. But it was hard to stay focused on them, and the audience periodically broke into applause for the mizhav drummers. Bringing another element of Kerala into the piece, their sonorous sounds filled the theatre. Placed in a Neeraj Sahai-designed set shaped as a mizhav drum, they visually and aurally dominated the performance.

Ultimately though, just as the production appealed to all the senses, so too did all its elements excel.

The lighting, designed by Abel, was consistently resplendent, selectively highlighting parts of the stage until an oracle-like burst toward the end. The music, as many whispered after the performance, was trance-like. And the smells were intoxicating.

It’s a good thing really, that a generous helping of the delicious payasam was served to each member of the audience at the end of the show. Empty stomachs and overflowing minds are never a good combination.

The Kitchen is not for everyone, but it should be. It’s intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying.

It’s the sort of escapist theatre that takes you back home, instead of further away from it. Watch it for the lights, the music, the set, and the actors but don’t forget to experience it.