Skip to main content

The Kitchen Sink

Photo by Prudence Upton

Ensemble Theatre presents, THE KITCHEN SINK, by Tom Wells, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 14 October – 18 November.

THE KITCHEN SINK is a British play by Tom Wells, first shown at the Bush Theatre, London, in late 2011.

It is a domestic soap-opera concerning a very ordinary British provincial city family and some of their neighbourhood denizens, all facing life-making turning-points that will initiate necessary change and so the inevitable scary adjustments, be they economic, emotional, social, spiritual, or, all of the former. Changes that will require a leap of faith that will turn out OK. To leap into the dark and trust that the next dimension of the journey will be OK. It will be, will be, OK.

In a realistic meticulously Designed kitchen, by Set Designer, Charles Davis (clever work, indeed, as he has another aesthetic Design on show, on this stage, in this season of repertoire: BUYER AND CELLAR, as well), that includes a kitchen sink, that serves the writer as a metaphor: you know, the sink that has, over its ‘life-span’ worn out its parts and needs repair or, better, new parts to have a functional future. Wink, nod, prod: just like its owners.

Dad, the life-time career milkman, Martin (Huw Higginson), being made redundant in this modern world – who needs their milk delivered anymore?; Mum, Kath (Hannah Waterman) the home body, who now that the family is grown, experiments with new recipes that are not always appreciated; a gay son, Billy (Ben Hall), who wants to be an artist and happy, despite his penchant for an output of innocent kitsch – a portrait of Dolly Parton with sequins. Which is it to be for Billy: London (and stress) or, his familiar, safe, home ground?; an unhappy daughter, Sophie (Contessa Treffone) invested in martial arts as a career path to assist women and girls in a hostile world, despite her own aggressive social ‘feistiness’ that may derail those aspirations, unless she seeks help for a secret that she holds too close; and her shy, long suffering wooer, Pete (Duncan Ragg), who has the responsibility of his dying grandma, but also (metaphor alert) is a plumber – you know, someone who can fix kitchen sinks and best of all, loves doing it.

This play in a series of short scene vignettes is a bit like turning on your TV and lazily watching NEIGHBOURS or HOME and AWAY or EASTENDERS, or even, THE BILL (one of my guilty secrets.) It is set in/with a hugely comforting familiar location and subject matter, character types, and like the best of those TV soaps, is fairly well done. It makes no demands of you and is kinda mildly funny and, sub-terrainously, hugely reassuring because you know, beforehand, the punchline for every situation and character development and every family-oriented ‘joke’ – and you know, as you sit there, somehow intuitively, deep in your soul, to the depth of your reproductive gonads, know, that everything and everybody is sure to turn out alright. It is, as we vaguely recognise, a life lesson for us, the near comatose couch potatoes, to give us confidence to take that ‘leap’ when the need for change beckons us.

The Director, Shane Bosher, has done a great job in keeping this over familiar material kind of interesting. He does it with the assistance of a terrific Sound Design from Marty Jamieson, keeping the many scene changes charged with propelling distracting energy for our ears, and, a fun, flexible Lighting Design by Alexander Berlage, that, similarly, keeps our eyes occupied during the scene changes to distract us from glum thoughts or conversation with our companions about how … , you know, you know, how … this writing, this play is so … you know, don’t you?

Best of all, Mr Bosher achieves much by moving around the space, the cliche characters, of the writer’s, by encouraging from all his skillful actors, character semaphores of gesture and thought with as much soul as they can mine – personalise. I, especially, found Duncan Ragg, and Ben Hall amusing and enjoyed their imaginative energies and simple honesty.

As you can tell, I am in my usual horse-for-courses dilemma, about this play, THE KITCHEN SINK, despite the skillful production. I kept wishing, if we had to go to this location (North Country, I think) and this kind of play, why, say, ummm … Arnold Wesker wasn’t in front of us – I longed for the Ensemble to have resurrected, pulled out, say, ROOTS, than to give us this rather sugar-coated feel-good pill.

Then, of course, we wouldn’t have had Dolly Parton on stage, a patron saint, I think of this household in THE KITCHEN SINK – certainly, this family knew her lyrics as if they were hymns of survival. Some of us commented in the foyer after the show, as we dipped our strawberries into the chocolate fondue sauce, that the Ensemble seems to be a ‘Temple of Camp’ at the moment (and why not?) what with Barbra Streisand occupying so much attention in the other show in its repertoire: BUYER AND CELLAR.

My personal prejudice believes that Barbra beats Dolly hands down in this ‘temple’. Go, to one or the other, or both, as you wish.