The Theatreguide.London Review
Cottesloe Theatre Summer 2003; Garrick Theatre Spring-Summer 2005
(Note: For the Garrick run, the author played the main role.)
Kwame Kwei-Armah's look at life in Afro-Carribean London today has more than its share of warm humour, but at its core it is a despairing tragedy of a world destroying itself.
Deli (Paterson Joseph) runs a small Hackney restaurant whose only regular customer seems to be the local hard man Digger (Shaun Parkes).
Deli's father (George Harris) constantly berates him for having become too English while his son Ashley (Emmanuel Idowu) finds him too old-fashioned, and is drawn to Digger's criminal world.
Deli's story is of trying to improve himself and protect his son, while, one after another, the people around him betray or desert him. Finally driven to extreme measures, he finds himself no match for Digger's cool familiarity with extremes, and the play ends in tragedy.
Director Angus Johnson and his cast succeed admirably in conjuring up a reality that allows much of the first half of the play to seem just an attractive slice of life in this warm and vital community, much in the manner of the African-American playwright August Wilson.
And, as frequently happens in Wilson's plays, it is only after we have seen the life-affirming potential of this world that we are made to see and mourn its fragility.
Indeed, the specific milieu aside, there is very little that is new or original about this play. Every black American playwright of the past 60 years, from Langston Hughes to Ed Bullins to August Wilson, has written a version of it.
But much of the tragic power of Elmina's Kitchen comes from the fact that it has had to be written yet again.
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