Theatre review: Chopping Chillies at Etcetera Theatre

Clair Whitefield in Chopping Chillies

Clair Whitefield in Chopping Chillies - Credit: Archant

Clair Whitefield’s spoken word piece is a heartwarming tale of two cultures with real authenticity, says Rhiannon McGregor.

Thursday night saw the preview of Clair Whitefield’s spoken word compilation Chopping Chillies at Camden’s Etcetera Theatre. In a compact room nestled above The Oxford Arms pub, Whitefield transported us to the vibrant region of Kerala, southern India, and then back again to the bustle of Camden High Street.

The story follows Ajna Jan, a Kalari (martial arts) warrior and healer who, upon suffering the soul-destroying loss of his entire family in an electrical fire, decides to move to London to start a new life in a cobblers’ shop he has inherited from his uncle. Here he meets Katie – a young Londoner who, having travelled to southern India, sets up ‘Katie’s Kerala Kitchen’ next door to the cobblers – and the two strike up a friendship.

The danger in moving the tale between two such diverse locations lies in leaving the audience feeling a little displaced, but Whitefield was able to move seamlessly backwards and forwards between the two. It was apparent during the performance that she managed this by drawing on her own experiences in Goa, which enabled her to add touchingly realistic details to the story, such as the overbearing aunties who seek to comfort Ajna when he returns home from his time in England and the importance of using raw, sour mangoes when making authentic chutney.

Using just a few simple props and the dexterity of her own voice, Whitefield was able to conjure up her tale of two cultures, relayed through an impressive array of caricatured but very like-able characters. Chopping Chillies is a heart-warming tale of food and friendship, but with just the right amount of smut in the form of Russian temptress Camilla – “Fantastic Camilla! Yes! yes! yes! The best woman in London!” – to keep it from falling into cliché.