Following middle-aged Sandra as she battles through the Sydney housing shortage after her housemates give her two weeks to leave, Brooke Robinson’s new work introduces a critical conversation to the Sydney stage. When we’re all familiar with the housing crisis on a macro scale through rising house prices and sales of car-sized land going for millions of dollars, Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. is a confronting portrayal of the personal cost for someone who slips through the cracks and is routinely denied basic human necessities.
Sandra’s (Tara Morice) story opens with her housemates unceremoniously asking her to leave within two weeks. Each subsequent scene recycles Fayssal Bazzi and Kelly Paterniti as various house-owners, landlords, housemates, and gate-keepers to Sandra’s desperate deterioration. Other than being under pressure from her ex-housemates, Sandra is also without family or friends and chronically ill such that, as the play follows her from interview to interview each ending in rejection, her circumstances become increasingly dire and dangerous.
The structure of stringing together interviews, with the only consistency of Sandra and her rejection, forms the main tension of the script as the subtlety of each compounds and becomes relentless. It’s a clever conceit to rotate Bazzi and Paterniti as the interviewers as it minimises their characters’ individual responsibility and indicates a larger, systemic inability to provide for Sandra. The script or staging could use more signalling of the recycling of actors or the chronology of events to make the scenes immediately following the introductory one much clearer. The male characters, additionally, lent too far towards indifferentiation and became too generically blokey. Whereas, the female characters appeared as far more condescending and unflattering, as a whole. These fleeting characters were more like sketches than full characters in their own right, stretching towards stereotype or parody but falling short of any satirical comedic value.
Director Marion Potts’s and designer Melanie Liertz’s choice to stage the production as largely realistic makes sense considering the reality this story is representing but when so much of contemporary theatre is experimenting with something more than the realistic domestic scenes broken with transitions, these choices can appear lacking or less engaged. Speaking of the transitions, these were the biggest let-down of the production. The blaring and nondescript music indicates an attempt to emphasise the subtle aggression and violence of the script in the sound design but fails to achieve that nuance and is, instead, annoying. Combined with a lighting design including snaps to black and single strobes and the design become overused and minimises the impact over time, especially when such design would have been most effective as Sandra awakes from a fainting fit or during her final collapse.
The overall design, direction, and script do indicate attempts to tell a pressing story that undoubtably effects at least some of Griffin’s audience and to ultimately affect change off the stage, but, as a whole, this production falls just short.
Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. is running at Griffin Theatre from May 9 – June 16.