The Original Theatre Company’s latest touring production, Caroline’s Kitchen (previously Monogamy) is the bitingly funny and uncomfortably relatable comment on modern family life that we have come to see so often. It shows us what appears to be a normal afternoon in the Mortimer family Kitchen, known across the country as the set for Caroline’s Kitchen, the nation’s (second) favourite cooking show hosted by the perfectly middle-class Caroline Mortimer. But when disaster after disaster hits on a hot summers’ day leading to the breaking of thunder and the destruction of at least two family units, it’s clear that there isn’t going to be a happy ending for this story.
The majority of the production is brilliant. It’s funny, shocking, and serious at the same time, tackling intense themes such as aging, addiction, global warming, and abuse, but underneath the satirical tone there is a genuine concern for Caroline’s alcoholism and Leo’s staunch argument for a vegan diet, not to mention the state of the two families involved. The tension builds subtly, but remains tangible. It is not a wildly unbelievable play, which comes largely from the family centric narratives and problems. Nobody listens to each other or communicates effectively; they constantly talk over each other without considering the feelings of those around them, often leading to multiple fast paced, intertwined conversations occurring simultaneously. Add the constant rotation of people coming and going from the kitchen itself and the comedy of errors becomes exactly that.
It is, unfortunately, the ending of this production that lets it down. The introduction of Chekhov’s gun (or knife) within the first four lines suggests an ending a whole lot more significant than the one we actually get, which, while retaining the comedic tone, does not allow the audience the cathartic release a middle class commentary like this needs. It makes bold comments on relationships and of course adultery (a key part in all middle class portrayals) but does not draw conclusions on any of them, or the characters that discuss them. Almost all of the characters are unchanged by the end of the play, none having come off better than the others; we have no winners or losers, bar the one deceased character who we are encouraged to believe is actually happier dead than alive.
This ending, despite being messy and confusing, does however prevent the show from becoming yet another stereotypical comment on middle class life. There have been no revelations, no great epiphanies. Nothing to suggest that the characters will respond to the negativity the day has brought them, which is perhaps the real message of the piece – no matter what happens, life keeps going. Without the deeper discussions, this play is at heart a comedy about a dysfunctional family and the people they employ, and on that level it works unquestioningly.
Caroline’s Kitchen is on at the Norwich Theatre Royal from 6-9th of March.