“It’s about bloody, making a little change. Letting some tiny changes happen without the world ending.”
One of the things I love most about theatre is that it can be equally effective when being intimate and small-scale as when it is epic and showstoppingly huge. Tom Wells’ new play for the relocated Bush Theatre – The Kitchen Sink – falls into the first category and is all the more powerful for it. In fact, I would wager that it is probably one of the best pieces of new writing to appear on the London stage this year.
Set in the Yorkshire seaside town of Withernsea, Wells’ play focuses on a family of four for whom life isn’t quite going exactly the right way. Dad Martin is a milkman but the milk float is falling to pieces and the demand just isn’t there like it used to be; Billy is an art student hoping to get a place at a London art college but simultaneously terrified at the prospect, and his sister Sophie is training to be a jiu-jitsu teacher but is having issues with her teacher. In the middle of them all is mum Kath, a dinner lady with an irrepressible perkiness that is determined to keep her husband and kids going through their respective crises, but there’s something wrong with her sink that threatens to test even her patience.
As demonstrated in his recent play Me, As A Penguin which was another small-scale wonder at the Arcola, Wells is a highly gifted writer who is able to rattle off one-liners at an alarming rate yet keeping them fresh and as funny as you will hear – this play contains one of the best jokes about the London Underground ever. But he is also able to find the beauty and poignancy in what might be considered the mundane, the play is full of little day-to-day moments that collect into a whole of great emotional heft.
This is assisted by some absolutely spot-on casting: Lisa Palfrey makes something close to the perfect mother as the warm Kath, game for almost anything whether it be couscous or cannabis and with Steffan Rhodri’s beautifully pitched worn-down Martin, make a thoroughly believable couple. Leah Brotherhead’s Sophie is quietly devastating as a young woman who hasn’t quite yet flourished, though the attentions of Andy Rush’s adorable plumber slowly awaken the potential in her as she deals with her issues. But Ryan Sampson as Billy edged it as my favourite performance, contrasting a natural-feeling campness with the heavy weight of an awkward self-consciousness that belies his years, and coming off as a fantastic comic actor – his is the Circle Line joke and his facial expressions, especially at a climactic moment, are just perfect.
The Kitchen Sink is a warm hug of a play: one that recognises that life is sometimes shit, but also that if we are willing to change, even if just a little bit, things can always get better. The new Bush Theatre have gotten off to a flying start here and they have the most exciting hand-dryers I have ever experienced, I thought nothing could replace the Dyson airblade but it’s like a pincushion of air! They just need to work on serving people at the bar a tiny bit quicker…