Elmina's Kitchen

Kwame Kwei-Armeh
RNT Cottesloe
(2003)

Kwame - like tennis players he doesn't seem to need a surname - is a star from Casualty who made his name in TV's Celebrity Fame Academy. Now he has a play produced at the National Theatre so life is good.

Elmina's Kitchen is a cafe/restaurant in a violent Hackney that will be familiar to those who saw Ché Walker's recent Flesh Wound at the Royal Court; but not necessarily to residents of Victoria Road.

Paterson Joseph's cautious Deli just wants a quiet life running his uncommercially empty restaurant - serving food that he cooks badly. Unfortunately with his family and in this community he is out of luck.

As the play starts, his brother Dougie is due to return from prison, and a new cook, the flirty Anastasia (a good performance from Doña Croll) is transforming the restaurant and Deli's life.

The problems are just beginning though. Deli's friend Digger (Shaun Parkes), a Yardie from Grenada with a sometimes unintelligible patoi,s both protects the restaurant and scares off any would-be punters. He is also a role model for Deli's 19 year-old son Ashley (Emmanuel Idowu). Why work when you can get money by the use of threats and violence?

As if this isn't bad enough, after Dougie's murder in prison, Deli's playboy father Clifton, played with relish by George Harris, returns to England after eighteen years. He steals the girl and tells some home truths about the idolised Elmina, much to the disgust and despair of his son.

A load more violence goes on in the background but despite the likeable characters of the hero, his dad and Anastasia, the plotting is overly elaborate and, eventually, Kwame's Hackney ceases to be believable.

There are, though, some very funny moments and the live musical trio creates an initial happy atmosphere that the tragedy of this family eventually dispels.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher