As I sit in the theatre enjoying the drama on the stage I often wonder where playwrights get their ideas from.
Is it personal experience?
Observing and questioning the society around them?
Or is it what they read and think about that provides the spark to create a story?
Perhaps it’s a little of all of these.
For me the source of inspiration for The Poor Kitchen came from my fascination with what you might call the Good Life travel memoir genre typified by popular books such as A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun.
The main character, usually a tired Anglo-Saxon woman, escapes her life in the city by moving into a dilapidated farmhouse in the southern Mediterranean countryside.
She proceeds to have frustrating adventures with the colourful and quirky cast of local characters she encounters while renovating her crumbling villa.
All of this is, of course, set against a backdrop of ancient rustic landscape, the seasonal rhythms of country life and huge servings of mouth-watering local cuisine.
I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve read dozens of versions of this cliché.
It’s often said that writers write about what they immerse themselves in, so it was almost inevitable that a play would come from my intense ‘study’ of this genre.
But a more personal reason for writing this story lies in the sharp collision between the incredibly privileged lives of the narrators of these stories, who romanticise their new lives in the sunny Mediterranean; contrasted with the brutal reality of my family’s, and many other migrants’ stories of the home country.
Australia is a nation of migrants with all the challenges that brings.
My father was part of the great human diaspora that characterised the 20th century. He escaped terrible poverty and tendency towards fascism of his homeland to make a new life in Australia.
I grew up with his stories about violence and hunger, the admonishment that I was fortunate to be here in this lucky country; no matter that I was called a wog at school and teased about the broccoli sandwiches and other weird “Iti” food that came out of my lunch box – food that I later realised was typical of The Poor Kitchen, a translation of La Cucina Povera, the simple food of the Italian peasants who ate whatever they could grow or forage locally.
Playwrights write about what they know but also what they are fascinated by.
The Poor Kitchen is a play about identity. Who we are and how we choose to live. It visits the violent political past in an Italy overtaken by Fascism in the 20th century. Even today the remnants of this simplistic and frightening political movement can be found in Italy and around the world.
The play explores the idea of simplicity versus complexity through a cast of quirky characters. We often want quick, easy solutions to political issues but whenever we engage with others we realise how many viewpoints there actually are.
Democracy, unlike Fascism, allows as many people as possible to have a say; which of course makes it perfect fodder for the dramatic form that beautifully allows for so many voices.
Off the stage however democracy can be a slow and frustrating process but although the alternatives might be faster they are often deadly.
Perhaps playwrights also write as a way to escape into other worlds. We romanticise other places, including the past. We sometimes wish we lived other lives.
It’s this very human need to be somewhere else, along with the realisation that we can only ever be here and now, that I’ve tried to harness in The Poor Kitchen, along with a generous splash of extra virgin olive oil and lashings of homemade pasta.