THE KITCHEN SINK
THE KITCHEN SINK, Ensemble Theatre, 24 October-26 November 2017. Photography by Prudence Upton - above: Hannah Waterman, Contessa Treffone, Ben Hall and Huw Higginson; below - Hannah Waterman, Ben Hall and Duncan Ragg
Playwright Tom Wells is 31-year-old gay Yorkshireman who has been beaten up on the streets of London by teenage tossers whose motive could have been his accent just as much as his sexual preference. The experience caused him to write angrily political plays that he concedes were more boring than dramatic, and then he wrote The Kitchen Sink and became the next big thing.
The award-winning bitter-sweet comedy of family bad manners is intensely of its place – a working class semi in Withernsea, a small town in East Yorkshire – and is therefore also universal. Billy (Ben Hall) is dreaming of art school in London and preparing his portfolio which includes a large portrait of his lifelong love, Dolly Parton.
Billy’s mum Kath (Hannah Waterman) is long past dreaming after a couple of decades working as the local school dinner lady, frying chips while wondering what to make for her family’s “tea”. She too is a Dolly fan and mother and son love nothing more than karaoke-ing into wooden spoon mics as they dance around the kitchen.
She needs cheering up because hubby Martin (Huw Higginson) is a milkman with a shrinking customer base and a decrepit milk float. He’s a dinosaur on the eve of extinction and hasn’t a clue what to do about it, so he’s stuck his head in the sand. And then there’s their daughter Sophie (Contessa Treffone), whose visibly smouldering inner rage has been diverted into becoming a jiu jitsu expert. She’s about to earn her black belt and realise a dream of teaching women and girls self defence.
Peripheral yet integral to the family unit is aspiring plumber Pete (Duncan Ragg) who lives nearby with his slowly-dying gran who’s well into medicinal joints. He’s a dab hand with a monkey wrench but not so handy when it comes to wooing Sophie who bosses him about without mercy or respite.
The small dramas of The Kitchen Sink are everyday and include Kath’s frustration with the faulty taps of the title, Sophie breaking her examiner’s nose for repeatedly calling her “feisty" (she doesn’t get her black belt) and a final vital bit irreparably falling off Martin’s milk float. Meanwhile, Billy makes it into art school and leaves for London and Pete buys a secondhand van for his plumbing venture.
Played out in Kath’s cluttered and homely eat-in kitchen (beautifully observed and detailed set design by Charles Davis, with lighting by Alex Berlage), the characters are fully realised and credible human beings. Director Shane Bosher orchestrates a very fine cast, with new-Oz Higginson and Waterman leading a seamlessly excellent ensemble of the younger (Aussie-born) actors. And for all, their impeccable grasp of Yorkshire is aided by dialect coach Amy Hume.
Mid-last century British theatre was the birthplace of “kitchen sink drama” and the title is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek nod to the genre. Nevertheless, unlike the grim environs of such classics as Room At the Top or A Taste of Honey (to be seen at Belvoir in 2018) The Kitchen Sink is leavened with gentle humour and genuinely poignant moments.
It’s an absorbing 100 minutes in the company of the kind of slightly cracked yet plausible people to be found on any street whose time never quite came and has now pretty much gone. The Kitchen Sink is a collection of stand-out performances, including the recalcitrant tap and Hannah Waterman’s perfect dope smoke rings, and you should be prepared to chortle a lot as well as leave with a lump in your throat. Word has got around: get your tickets before it’s too late. Thoroughly recommended.