Current Issue #488

OzAsia Review:
The Dark Master

Takashi Horikawa

Part epicurean celebration and part psychodrama, Kuro Tanino’s The Dark Master invites the audience into the surreal world of an ailing and alcoholic chef who, inexplicably and seemingly on a whim, hands the reins of his business to a young customer.

When a naïve young Tokyo backpacker stumbles unwittingly into a job running a small Osaka bistro, strange events quickly take a turn for the stranger.

Promising to provide the newcomer with live cooking instructions with the aid of an earpiece and a network of microphones and cameras hidden throughout the restaurant, the bistro’s owner disappears upstairs and from here on his voice is delivered via the earphones every audience member has been wearing since the start of the show. The nonplussed new chef takes over, persevering through fits of nerves and waves of customers, gradually acquiring something approaching culinary skill, and ultimately shifting identity and sort of turning into the old chef.

The audio construct is an incredibly clever way of drawing the viewer into the young chef’s interior experience – we experience almost first-hand the stress of assembling an unknown dish in response to rapid-fire instructions while customers attempt to engage in small talk. These scenes explore neatly the terror of self-doubt and incompetence in situations when one simply must perform – underscored by the fact that the actor really is preparing food on stage, which we see projected at close quarters on a large screen.

While there’s something nice (and definitely hilarious) about the old chef’s determination to remotely nurture the skills of the newcomer, this is counterbalanced by an uncomfortable and pervasive sense of voyeurism and control. Against a backdrop of social change, urban redevelopment and a rising China – presented through the exclusively male lens of characters we don’t learn a huge amount about – the story is highly entertaining but ultimately a tad aimless, much like the young chef himself.

But the play is transportative – it really feels like a dingy but comforting bistro in a narrow Osaka alley, with the masterful set design and construction providing an absolutely convincing world in which the terrific cast can let these off-kilter events unfold.

The Dark Master was performed at Space Theatre on Thursday 31 October

Peter Krieg

See Profile

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox