A series of vignettes dedicated to ‘modern-day café culture and the problems that come with it’ doesn’t scream mirth, so I think the success of Kaffa! pays hearty testament to the abilities of the Porcelain Cat Theatre Company.
This is a day in the life of the Kaffa café and its staff: the monomaniacal Penelope, the dashing Spaniard Jesús, the unimpassioned Daisy and the introverted Ginger. These characters are comic foils, but they are nonetheless sympathetic, even in the cases of the latter two, who remain for the play’s duration vocally inexpressive. We will go on to be introduced to aged women, histrionic screenwriters, lame dads and brash interviewers. Every character is a recognisable extreme, but no less human for it – and never driven to the point of absurdity. They are treated with the kind of respect that makes their habits – of which many of us are culprits, drawn from cultural observations of the everyday – well-pitched as opposed to mean-spirited or superior. Their tics and proclivities are a thoroughfare to comedy, not exploited for it. These characters aren’t trying to be us, but they resonate because of the truth there is to them.
There is no time wasted between vignettes: the music pounds briefly, the actors drop their upper bodies and resume the upright position as a new persona. Everything is tightly rehearsed to fit as much into the hour as possible, while at no point allowing it to feel oversaturated or rushed. Each character, maintained even when attention is elsewhere, is distinct from the last, and the show never feels tired, prizing as it does variety and nuance. One skit, for example, is embedded in the tradition of silent film, while the exposition of the baristas is achieved by way of a Spanish ditty courtesy of Jesús and an onslaught of custom expressed in a slickly choreographed coffee-pouring routine. This is a company with a deft touch, knowing exactly when the engine will feel strained and slipping into a new gear as soon as it approaches.
The nature of this sort of beast is that some characters are always weaker than others and the silent skit suffered from the fact that those sitting at the back could never actually see what it was Ginger was trying to avoid. Still, from Eva Soans’ Indian grandmother to Chris White’s bolshie corporate man, from Jake Head’s try-hard dad to Jess Clough’s flirty conversationalist, the cast were consistently excellent. They are not only very talented performers, Kaffa! articulates in them a keen intelligence. This is well-thought through, meticulously crafted comedy that knows how to best endear an audience. They have found the comic pulse where many others fail, and that deserves a huge amount of credit and respect. So go on – have a Kaffa day.