Camden Fringe 2019
The first cross-cultural production by emerging Singaporean company FK Co-Lab. ‘The Cardboard Kitchen Project’ is a one-person show led by an all-female team from Singapore and Spain. It explores cultural inheritance and is performed by Varshini Pichemuthu and directed by Faezah Zulkifli.
Recently separated Jennie (Varshini Pichemuthu) moves to London from Singapore for a new beginning. She can’t quite call London home yet, but she is certain this will soon change. Underneath her bubbly, energetic exterior she is hiding her pain and the reason she decided to settle in a new place. When she receives a peculiar present in the mail – a kitchen made of cardboard, she begins assembling it and uses it as an opportunity to learn more about herself and her family.
Everything on stage is made from cardboard, including the doorway to Jennie’s flat. Even her phone, which at first seems an odd choice, but makes sense once you realise the only thing not made from cardboard is Jennie herself – and her clothes. Lighting and sound are used very effectively throughout and assist the shifts in the storytelling well. Pichemuthu is an absolute delight to watch and her energy does not drop for a single moment in this 75 minutes, which is both hard and an absolute must for a solo show.
The concept of the show is also great, London attracts a lot of people from around the world (me being one of them), but there are hundreds of reasons why they choose to settle here. At first glance, Jennie may well just be here for work or her studies, but the truth is she is trying to escape her past and start fresh. The story tackles immigration, cultural differences and biases as well as globalisation. There are some very touching moments and some very funny moments too and the story is varied enough to keep your attention.
The main issue is that the production as a whole is a bit messy. And I say this in the nicest way possible because ultimately it is entertaining. So it is worth figuring out how it can be polished without losing any of its current merits. The first thing is that it can definitely be shortened. It is very rare that a one-person show needs over an hour and there were many bits in this one that could be trimmed and bring it under the hour mark.
For example the phone conversation between Jennie and her mother, it was a lovely moment that showed us their relationship and gave some background, but after a while it didn’t give us any extra information. Another one is when Jennie first begins to assemble the kitchen. She looks at the box, unpacks it and then starts putting it together. This section could both afford to be trimmed a bit and there is also room for more shifts in Jennie’s feelings towards her present. Right now she goes from determined to confused and vice versa multiple times, but there is perhaps more there. A more varied performance, without any additional text, could keep us interested and gives us additional information about her character.
Pichemuthu’s connection with the audience is also great, so it would be brilliant if she directed more things to us. For example, when she speaks to her flatmate, it would be better if the flatmate was not supposedly on stage and invisible to us, but over our heads. Then Jennie could give us some direct looks to let us know how she feels about what’s happening. On the other hand, having invisible people on stage did weirdly work at some points, because it allowed us to see how lonely Jennie felt. In fact, when her flatmate first “appears” and Jenny says that it is great to have someone to speak to, it is such a touching moment, exactly because we cannot see anyone there. However, overall most moments would have looked more polished and be more effective if the other characters were in the audience rather than on stage.
‘The Cardboard Kitchen Project’ is overall a lovely piece that teaches us a thing or two, and Pichemuthu’s energy really does it justice. Perhaps some choices need rethinking and it can benefit from some more rehearsals and development, but even now it is quite entertaining to watch. Well done.