Sex or food? That age-old question that takes us back to the years of our early ancestors, where survival and reproduction were the two most essential aspects of living. Apply this to a man in the late twentieth century and you have The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband.
Kenneth is married to Hilary. Hilary is the perfect cook. But Kenneth is bored of their sex life, so starts an affair with the young, attractive Laura. There’s just one problem: She can’t cook. The rest of the story is an absurd tale of a man who tries to balance his appetite for food with his appetite for sex, by having his cake and eating it too, with two women on the go at once.
Debbie Isitt doesn’t make this one easy for her actors (or director for that matter), with many moments of monologue and soliloquy. The three actors gave it their all, although at times these moments felt somewhat under-developed. If theatre is going to be absurd, then it needs to commit itself to the absurdity. Director, Colette Dockery, created some wonderful moments of stylised absurdity. A routine showing the day-to-day lives of Hilary and Kenneth – starting with breakfast and ending with dinner – was fast-paced and to the beat. Dialogue was, at times, also styled in a similar fashion, encapsulating the blunt irony of the script and the monotonous continuity of a broken relationship. However, many of the long speeches felt flat and too “normal” (for want of a better word). The text isn’t always engaging; and this is not a criticism of the writing as I believe it’s suitable for the style. Yet to keep the audience focussed, Dockery needed to extend the quirkiness of the piece to the entire play.
The cast gave some decent performances. Gemma-May Bowles and Harriet Wilkinson presented a sharp contrast between their respective characters, Hilary (the ex-wife) and Laura (the new wife). Bowles spoke with a husky tone, dominating the stage and building up the picture of the psychotic ex-wife. Wilkinson gave a perky, spirited performance, and both actors worked well with William Baltyn, as Kenneth, to emphasise the contrasting relationships.
Phillip Ley’s set design took on the shapes of a puzzle, with the outline of puzzle pieces on the walls and floor and even a two-part table which slotted together. I’m not quite sure why the ‘puzzle’ shape was used, but it worked nicely enough and prompted the audience from the start to the non-naturalistic nature of the production. A colour scheme of green (for Hilary), red (for Laura) and black (for Kenneth) was applied to the split-stage set and to Sheila Burbidge’s costumes, adding to the symbolic design of the show.
A slow opening – with some fun bits, but some boring bits, in the middle – ultimately led to an engaging climax. However my main problem was the lack of physical storytelling that this play relies heavily on. The mimed props, snappy cue-bite and moments of stylisation worked really well… it’s only a shame these conventions weren’t heavily applied to the piece as a whole.
Review by Joseph Winer
The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband
by Debbie Isitt
Directed by Colette Dockery
Evenings at 7.30
Tuesday 1st –
Saturday 5th March
Matinée at 3.00
Saturday 5th March
The Tower Theatre performing at at the Bridewell Theatre, off Fleet Street
Kenneth and Hilary have been married for 15 years and for the last few years food has been the only connection between them. Hilary cooks it and Kenneth eats it. Lots of it. He loves his food. After he’s discovered having an affair with a younger woman, Hilary finally gives him an ultimatum. He decides to leave her for the younger model, Laura. But there’s one problem – Laura can’t cook. So Kenneth finds excuses to sneak back to Hilary’s house to indulge himself in the pleasures of gluttony. To his delight, Hilary invites Kenneth and Laura round for dinner, but Hilary has very different plans in mind.
A witty and dark comedy from the pen of Debbie Isitt.