Written & Perfomed by Clair Whitefield
Directed by Guy Masterson
A MYSTICAL TALE OF LOSS, LOVE & SOUL-FOOD
A hit at Edinburgh 2016: From Kerala to Camden, an epic, mystical tale of love, loss and soul-food.
A cobbler and a cook concoct a delicious transcontinental enchantment as tragedy and chance entwine. Katie dreams of curries and chapattis; Ajna, of holy souls and reincarnation... A delightful, poetic, magical yarn that conjoins the spirit of India with the heart of London.
Directed by Olivier Award winner (for 'Morecambe') Guy Masterson.
THE LIST 01/09/16
Claire Whitefield's Chopping Chilies first appeared in 2015's Free Fringe: now under the direction of Guy Masterson, the play has added new levels of theatricality with lighting, sound effects and music. Yet the heart of the play remains Whitefield's charming performance and well-crafted script.
A martial artist, suffering grief at the loss of his family in a tragic accident, inherits a shoe repair shop, moves overseas and uses his knowledge of the body's pressure points to alter his customer's footwear, posture, confidence and ultimately their lives. Powerless to repair his own life, he finds himself challenged only when a young, dreadlocked hipster opens up a cafe next door, and begins making food that reminds him of his lost family and the country he left behind.
The play features stories within stories, and a variety of colourful characters who speak in verse, a nod to Whitefield's background in poetry. The plot is fast moving, with a dense layer of foreshadowing and symmetry but the simple premise sweeps up the audience with its charm.
Perhaps its most intriguing point is the refusal to become a stereotypical love story, ignoring romance in favour of exploring ideas about neighbours and friendship. It also looks at how the things people create influence those that come into contact with them. Leaving the theatre after Whitefield's energetic performance, you may find yourself looking at your own shoes and wondering how they are affecting your own course of life. (Graeme McNee - The List - 01/09/16)
FRINGE REVIEW 25/08/16
A solo show, written and performed by Clair Whitfield and directed by Guy Masterson, which is a mix of prose and storytelling, physical theatre and character performance weaving London and India in a tale of fate, friendship and personal transformation.
This is a tale set mainly in Camden where Ajna, an Indian martial arts teacher from Kerala, unexpectedly inherits a cobbler's shop due to the death of an uncle. New to the metropolis Ajna quickly learns the cobbler's art and sets about trying to help those with whom he comes into contact with by engineering slithers of insole to work some kind of magic on the meridians in the feet and thus bring about life changes in the wearer of the repaired shoes. Katie, the other main character of the piece, open's a pop-up Indian delicatessen next door and Anja becomes her food taster and adviser on the exacting science of Keralan food preparation processes and technique. The ensuing friendship, as well as a number of other minor characters that appear passim, is the main emotional meat of the piece as they connect to each other in unexpected ways. As an out-of-towner with a rather traumatic history, Ajna is somewhat comparable to the lone cowboy of Western movies who, due to his own story, can never take root in town but nevertheless is a source of transformation for those around him and is himself transformed.
It is delivered by Whitfield with much gusto and panache and I found her prose and rhyme to be sophisticated and very pleasing, and her physical delivery via her postures and quasi-dance enactments was not overplayed. The delivery was word perfect with not a single slip.
It is an enthralling tale, full of charm and atmosphere, well executed with great enthusiasm by Whitfield - and a few laughs along the way too. (Leslie Lane - FringeReview.com - 25/08/16)
EDINBURGH GUIDE 11/08/16
Standing centre stage, Clair Whitefield, wearing a simple red T shirt and loose blue trousers, begins to tell us an extraordinary, humbling story of love, family, loss, grief, new beginnings and unexpected friendships.
From the first line, we are drawn into a traveller's tale from India to London. We begin on Parliament Hill in the early morning before the dog walkers arrive; beside the trees you will observe a Kalari master practicing the sacred martial art, a ritual of flowing kicks and sticks to represent power, respect and balance.
This is Ajna Jan, who has arrived from Kerala to take over his late uncle's cobbler's shop in Camden. He has left behind the colour and chaos, tuk tuks and street vendors to experience the black tunnel of the Northern Line en route to 75 Camden Street.
But he is no ordinary cobbler, repairing battered shoes. The kindly, quiet Ajna is a spiritual gentleman who is able to combine the ancient art of reflexology to refresh and energise the tired souls of his customers with magical results.
Clair is a masterly mime artist and actress, who, with graceful movement, brings to life with meticulous detail the various characters, from lawyers to young lovers, who visit the shop.
Next door, Katy, just back from a gap year in India has opened her Kerala café - and Ajna is of course quick to offer his expertise as a taster of her pakoras and samosas; the enticing description of fragrant coconut, lime, Kashmiri chillies and banana leaves is so pungent you actually believe that Madhur Jaffrey is sizzling the spices on stage.
Written as a richly imaginative poetry-play, the lyrical language is reminiscent in its gentle humour and emotional insight of T S Eliot's The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. It is beautifully directed by Guy Masterson, like a choreographed dance with just sound effects and lighting to create a real sense of being taken on this journey from Cochin to Camden.
This is storytelling at its most simple and most enlightening and rather like the memoir and film, Eat Pray Love, explores issues of nationality, language, faith and culture. Ultimately it is about the joy of cooking and sharing good food which brings people together, the true meaning of companionship. Chopping Chillies is a delicious, appetising, spicy feast of a show. (Vivien Devlin - Edinburgh Guide 11/08/16)
TV BOMB 18/08/16
There's no doubt about it, Clair Whitefield is the Real Thing. A poet-turned-playwright, Chopping Chillies is her first play, and this is its second outing at the Fringe, having been seen and subsequently picked up by renowned producer-director, Guy Masterson, in 2015. This polished, newly-directed production is therefore an amalgamation of Whitefield's passion and Masterson's experience, and it shows.
The premise is simple enough: We, the audience, are treated to the gentle unravelling of the unlikely yet compellingly believable tale of Ajna Jan, a martial arts Master in Kerala, who becomes a cobbler in Camden following the death of his family. Next door to his little shop, a young woman named Katie opens an Indian restaurant and, while Ajna is helping strangers through pressure points on the soles of their shoes, he also helps Katie, more overtly, with the 'soul' of her food. This is no contrived love affair, but a low-key, organic friendship as panacea to pain. Rarely has a character's journey been related with such subtlety *and* pathos.
Alone on the practically bare stage, Whitefield plays all the parts, beginning with Ajna himself. At times, she immerses herself fully into the here and now of the story, so that we are incontrovertibly transported to that moment through Whitefield's voice, her mannerisms, her very body. At others, she is the narrator, reverting to the third person and the past tense, which controverts the standard format of a 'play', and yet serves as counterpoint to the 'present' scenes, pushing them into vivid relief, wherein all the senses waken. We can smell Katie's spices, and we can taste her chillies. As for Ajna Jan, we can taste his tears.
It is difficult to determine whether Chopping Chillies truly challenges the boundaries of theatre-writing, or whether it is simply a more theatrical presentation of a piece of beautiful prose. Whitefield herself calls it a 'poetry-play', and her performance poetry origins are certainly in evidence. However, Masterson states in the programme notes that, "Great theatre should be a tempest of energy, illuminated by flashes of blinding communication" and "it should be an experience that no other medium can provide". The former description encapsulates this performance perfectly and, whilst the script would no doubt work well enough on the radio or printed in a book, there is no substitution for the live experience of witnessing - and sharing - this tale around a stage. It is, after all, our modern equivalent of the campfire.
Whitefield is undoubtedly an accomplished wordsmith of lyrical sensibilities, and ultimately, her pairing with Masterson is a hit. Together, they convey the universal power of storytelling with a feather-light touch, which nevertheless hits home when it needs to. However, a huge part of the magic comes from Whitefield herself. She is a performer of unconscious but captivating charm. Chopping Chillies is a thoroughly engrossing way to spend an hour. (Laura Ingram - TV Bomb 18/08/16)