The Bush Theatre is renowned for finding fresh talent and a few other companies such as the Hull Truck theatre company have already picked up Tom Wells. This being my first visit to the Bush’s new space in the old library I was excited to see what they had on offer. The space was magnificent, the play not so much.
The Kitchen Sink tells us the story of a northern family who are struggling to make ends meet. The milk float is falling apart and the end is as much in sight as Dolly Parton’s nipples in Billy’s portrait that he hopes will earn him a place at Art College. Amid it all, Kath is trying to hold it all together while battling with the kitchen sink, also on its last legs and threatening to blow at any moment. Following this hapless family on their year-long struggle circling the plughole is designed to offer a portrait of life for many in these hard times and help bring people together in their hardship. Instead it leaves you with more of a sinking feeling…
The linchpin of the whole show was very much Lisa Palfrey as the distraught mother, Kath. Her composure was good throughout as she dealt with problem after problem in typical mother-like fashion, a delicate balance between baking cakes and nagging, apparently… She has some moments of brilliance that she draws out of the script and her relationship with each of the other characters is strong and natural, particularly with her husband, played by Steffan Rhodri. He is as stubborn as he is grumpy. Despite this, his depth doesn’t really come out until the final scene and although this is moving, it’s a bit late to have the impact it was designed to.
The best character and characterisation was on the part of Andy Rush, the perpetually flustered almost boyfriend almost plumber. He has the most energy when he’s on the stage and his character’s relationship with the struggling surrogate family is realistic and compelling. When he suffers, you genuinely suffer with him and moments later are laughing at his flawless ineptitude. His fumbling attempts at romance with Leah Brotherhead’s Sophie are as endearing as they are disastrous and add a welcome youth and vibrancy to the underlying plot. Brotherhead’s Sophie is strongly constructed through most of the show, though there are a couple of outbursts when it wasn’t entirely clear where they had come from; nevertheless a good performance from the award-winning actress.
Ryan Sampson completes the cast with a strong performance. His position is the most varied through the show and perhaps the one that most audience members can empathise with to some extent and as a result he feels closer to the audience than the rest of the family. His struggle in trying to break out and find himself in the despairing times is challenging on many levels as he rises and falls, accompanied all the way by the wonderfully incorporated Dolly Parton. A good touch, that.
The script is somewhat disappointing. There was no obvious progression in the plot and there was no satisfactory group ending. I’m not saying that it needed to be a happy ending, I’m saying that the way in which the play ended with a couple of couples resolving their issues and coming together felt fragmented and incomplete, as if there was another ten minutes that we were missing. It didn’t feel like an ending. Although there are plenty of funny moments, particularly as a result of the good work by Rush and Sampson, there is no belly laugh humour until the very end and it has more of a situational and set-based cause than a script-based one.
I also have a pet peeve with the script wherein Tom Wells thinks it’s a good idea to end sentences… It’s all very well trailing off here or there but when you’re trying to… I looked at two random pages in the script when I was at home and each page had three instances of… The effect that this had was that we missed a lot of what makes most plays good. It’s the ends of those sentences that make the playwright a name and make the images and metaphors relevant and poignant, amusing and touching. The Kitchen Sink had none of this and felt empty as a result. I didn’t feel like I gained anything by following these characters on their journey.
The direction was much better than the writing, with the entrances and exits being slick and the blocking dealing with performing in the round very well indeed. I’d be very surprised if anyone felt like they didn’t have a good view of the whole show. The changes from season to season were subtly marked and worked well, the actors all knew what they were doing and didn’t break character once. There was a pleasing unity in that, at least.
One of the most impressive aspects of the show was the space and the set that was built in it. The open backs of the cupboards were a nice touch and the feel of a building site with sand everywhere suited the play brilliantly. It felt like a home, not just a house, while at the same time allowing us a non-invasive view into the kitchen.
For £10 a ticket it’s a fair deal and a good evening of theatre but since it’s a bit lackluster and the Bush subscribes to the frustrating trend of incorporating their programme with the script there isn’t much justification for higher prices. The auditorium was full and the atmosphere was good, if a bit blue. All in all, it’s rather…
Written by Tom Wells; Directed by Tamara Harvey; At the Bush Theatre; Starring Lisa Palfrey, Ryan Sampson, Leah Brotherhead, Andy Rush, Steffan Rhodri; Runs from 16 November 11 - 17 December 11.
John Ord (30/11/2011)