Reviews/Comedy/Fringe World Festival/Music

Serving up a hectic good time

22 January 2021

Get ready for a hectic good time at Musicians Kitchen Battles which Claire Trolio says is a chaotic but delicious feast for the senses.

Musicians Kitchen Battles, Ai-Ling Truong ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 21 January, 2021 ·

For me, the spirit of Fringe is about taking a punt on a show – try something new and you might get lucky. And that I did at the world premiere of Musicians Kitchen Battles: a riotous night out that’s not so much food for thought as it is straight-up entertainment.

Two Perth bands are pitted against one another in a live cook-off punctuated by a riff battle, cocktail competition and culinary quiz. It’s firmly rooted in the cooking show genre, taking inspiration from made-for-television competitions like Iron Chef and Masterchef Australia, and using live video feed to focus and shape the audience’s experience.

Transferring this format to the live stage requires a mammoth amount of organisation, but first-time producer Ai-Ling Truong has every detail covered: water, power, appliances, a cornucopia of ingredients and so much more. There are two hosts (Jessica Arnott and Aarom Wilson) guiding us and the unsuspecting contestants through the hour, plus a judging panel. While the show is necessarily unscripted, its format needs meticulous planning to ensure it runs at all, and fortunately Arnott and Wilson execute Truong’s project brilliantly.

To kick off Musicians Kitchen Battles’ four-night season, indie folksinger-songwriter Stella Donnelly and her band faced off against post-metal quartet Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, to create the best dish heroing brassicas. While it was undoubtedly the charm to see musicians out of their comfort zone, it was also a treat to watch them step back in with a musical element. With so many players on stage and so much action, it was crucial to Musicians Kitchen Battles’ success, and perhaps unsurprising, that this bunch of musicians instinctively made room for one another in the performance space.

‘Musicians Kitchen Battles’ is a clever dissection of the cooking show genre. Photo supplied

From the stadium-style seating at Studio Underground, the audience has a behind-the-scenes view of the spectacle that is the cooking show, simultaneously viewing the televised package and the off-camera mayhem. It is completely shambolic, but it’s also a clever dissection of the genre.

It helps that our hosts have been there before. Aarom Wilson is a failed Masterchef Australia contestant who lasted “all of two seconds”, while his co-host, Jessica Arnott, came third in the show’s seventh season. She gives occasional insights into her experience that become unexpected gems in the show. Even better are her nuggets of cooking and bartending knowledge, an element I wished there had been more of. An enigmatic Wilson ensures the energy never dips, always ready to step in and commentate or progress the action.

The judging panel is a charismatic trio of performers, personalities and purveyors rather than food critics. Matt Aitken (Magnolia’s, Fringe World 2014-17), soul singer Ofa Fotu (Odette Mercy’s Heartbreak Dance, Fringe World 2012-13) and musician and Re Store trader Nick Odell embody the perfect mix of enthusiasm, passion for food and humour. Fotu, in particular, has such an incredible stage presence, with soothing delivery and comic timing, that I wanted more of her. But I wouldn’t take anything out – the only answer is to make Musicians Kitchen Battles longer.

There’s a lot to pack into 60 minutes, and on opening night it didn’t fit. The show was wrapped up in a hurry at the 75-minute mark, with the set being dismantled behind the action to make way for the next Fringe instalment of the evening. Chaotic? Yes, but did it detract from my enjoyment? Absolutely not.

A hectic good time filled with tension, laughter and a surprising narrative arc: this is improvisation at its best. With new bands and presumably a new culinary theme each night, you can’t be sure what to expect in the next three shows, but I reckon you’ll be served up a delicious feast for your senses.

Musicians Kitchen Battles is on in the State Theatre Centre of WA Studio Underground until 24 January, 2021.

Picture top: musicians cook up a feast for the senses in Musicians Kitchen Battles. Photo supplied

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Author —
Claire Trolio

Claire Trolio completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at UWA. She writes about Western Australia for various digital and print media and owns a shop with her sister. For her, the spider swing is the ultimate in playground fun.

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