I hate summer. Maybe hate’s a strong word and what I really mean to say is that I love winter. I love finding that toasty warmth in bed with a thousand covers over your body or the comfort of a slow-cooked dinner and the justified languor of popping into your jim-jams at 5pm and watching mindless television because it’s dark and cold outside. But if the Sydney Festival keeps producing seasons of theatre and entertainment like the one we’ve had in 2014, I may declare summer my new favourite time of year and I’m declaring Griffin’s/Performance 4A/Carriageworks’ ‘The Serpent’s Table’ my pick of the Festival.
Firstly, there is a beautiful and theatrical authenticity to the storytelling and voices of some of Australia’s prominent Asian celebrities. Who wasn’t moved by Pauline Nguyen’s bittersweet story of her relationship with her father or Darren Yap’s loss of his mother?
Next is the staging of each story, designed by Alice Lau, where audience are herded gently to a different area of the cavernous Carriageworks space to see Nguyen cook and slice (oh the tension of that knife) or Anna Yen’s hanging rope acrobatics or Indira Naidoo’s garden and dining area recreated so we are literally seated at her table.
There was genuine humour aplenty- Jennifer Wong’s hilarious tales of fabricating the food diary so she might keep her true Asian identity under wraps or how Darren Yap’s mother bribed him into compliance through a flask of his favourite food or Indiria Naidoo’s mum growing something in the garden that was certainly not the spice she thought it was. There is Chinese live music following us around the hall and the whole experience seems to pay homage to a culture that feels incredibly under-represented on the Australian stage.
On top of all of that was the delicious food. I would not let Darren Yap leave until I had his mother’s chicken and mushroom recipe. This was a complete sensory experience from fondling Naidoo’s spices (not a metaphor) to the sweet smell and taste of each dish, the visual feast of Lau’s design and Luiz Pampolha’s lights and Mic Gruchy’s projections and the aural delights of the sounds and stories of ‘The Serpent’s Table’.
Lee Lewis and Darren Yap as co-directors have produced such an encompassing and engaging piece of theatre that if you missed out on tickets in the raffle, you really have missed out on something very special. This was a communal and community show, inclusive and insightful, stylised and authentic with warmth of delivery.
‘The Serpent’s Table’ furnished me with those joys of winter in the middle of summer and I’m forever grateful that I got to experience this show.