The Space @ Surgeons’ Hall, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh
Hillary’s Kitchen sounds promising: following the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton wakes up with a hangover, surprised to find a group of women in her kitchen. And not just any women either, these are women of historical significance: Virginia Woolf, Eve, Dido, Frida Kahlo and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Knocking back the Chardonnay, they share their stories, with the aim of helping Hillary, to give her strength to carry on.
The intent is clear: a kind of Top Girls for the modern age, a fourth-wave feminist version of Caryl Churchill’s second-wave hit play. But it lacks the sophistication of Churchill’s earlier piece: the political depth just isn’t there, and neither is the clever dialogue. It’s a laudable ambition, but it seems the playwright has bitten off more than she’s quite ready to chew. It’s a shame. But any audience drawn in by this particular premise is likely to be demanding: it’s clearly marketed as a topical satire, referencing world news, art and literature – people buying tickets are going to be clued-up about this stuff. They’ll be expecting a level of insight and wisdom that sadly isn’t here.
The cast is huge and I can’t work out why; I can’t see any benefit to this. Why not double up more roles, like Churchill does, making connections between the historical figures and their modern domestic counterparts? The stage feels cluttered with people and props, and the constant entering and exiting through the backdrop is a definite mistake, especially when the curtain flaps open to reveal the backstage area, all lit up and chaotic.
Let’s be clear, there are some decent actors on this stage, doing their best with what they’ve got. The woman playing Virginia Woolf, for example, is particularly strong, as is the drunken Hillary Clinton. Their initial conversation is a highlight of the piece. There are some good performances in the over-long ‘Prince Charming’s job application’ section too, but too many weak jokes to call the scene an overall success. In fact, most of those on stage are clearly capable performers; sadly, this piece does not allow them to show what they can do.
Look, I can’t pretend this works; it doesn’t. A good third of the audience walks out before the show is halfway through. (Which is, actually, indefensible I think – shockingly rude and disruptive, with no thought for how the performers are supposed to soldier on. It’s live: they can see you. Where are your manners, people? It’s only an hour. If you don’t like it, tough luck. You took a punt and it didn’t work out. Stay in your seats and be polite.)
The Fringe is a place to try stuff out; sometimes it flies and sometimes it doesn’t quite take off. But that’s the point, surely – there has to be room to experiment, to learn. Next time, maybe?