Presented by Niwa Gekidan Penino
Reviewed Wednesday 30 October 2019
Kuro Tanino has dedicated himself to “transcending the conventions of theatre through performance in unconventional spaces”. And like his previous OzAsia show The Dark Inn, The Dark Master does this while populating a surreal world with characters bearing supernatural overtones.
The set itself is a delight, a rural Japanese inn that’s both evocative and functional thanks to the working kitchen at its centre. It’s run by a misanthropic chef who adopts an overeager backpacker as his apprentice, and from there things take a number of increasingly strange turns.
The fully functioning kitchen is firmly at the centre of the performance throughout, and as customers wander in the apprentice learns to cook for them onstage. The flash of fire and smells from the meals he prepares add an extra element to the action, observed by the titular chef who has by this point retreated offstage. He delivers instructions through an earpiece, and a headphone by each seat lets the audience hear Susumu Ogata’s appropriately masterful delivery. His lines are interspersed with evocative non-verbal touches as he watches his apprentice first with pain, then with pride.
The first half of the performance is wonderfully light and full of humorous flourishes, Koichiro F.O. Pereira’s backpacker a delight to watch as he discovers the joys of cooking and the pleasure his customers take in the results. But as the nature of the Faustian pact that he has unwittingly entered into becomes increasingly evident, the action gets darker and the master’s advice goes from cooking to “becoming a man” in the most clichéd manner possible: through drinking, smoking and sex. The giggling sex worker he orders is the only female character with any lines, and a low point comes when the master watches on as she performs, groaning in pleasure and declaring “niiiiiiice”.
The timeline is surprisingly compressed as the young man descends into depression, aided by a Chinese thug and a confusing political commentary about his countrymen buying up property in a country still recovering from the economic bubble of the late 80s. Then, when the ending arrives, it does so with an abrupt and unsatisfying fizzle.
The Dark Master is memorable for the onstage cooking and earpieces, inventive flourishes from the ever-fruitful mind of Tanino. But ultimately it is the work of an auteur who single-mindedly pursues one idea at expense of others and like a meal that looks beautiful but is unfulfilling, it fails in its primary purpose.
Reviewed by Alexis Buxton-Collins
Rating out of 5: 2.5
Venue: Space Theatre
Season: Until 31 Oct 2019
Duration: 2 hours
Tickets: $35 – $59
OzAsia Festival, Space Theatre, Niwa Gekidan Penino, Kuro Tanino, Susumu Ogata, Koichiro F.O. Pereira