The Bush Theatre has moved to a gorgeous new venue on the Uxbridge Road, conveniently close to my house. I've never been before and was drawn by glowing reports from various friends about the current show, The Kitchen Sink. This new play from Tom Wells is acutely written, displaying wit and warmth in an endearingly modest fashion. It offers tenderness and hope and is the perfect play for Christmas.
Set in Withernsea, a crumbling seaside resort in Yorkshire, the action involves a normal family dealing with daily struggles; we follow them through the four seasons of a year. The father, Martin, is the most traditional member of the family, a good man turning sour as he loses his broken milk float and his livelihood slips away from him... he likes life plain and simple. His wife, Kath loves her family unconditionally, she is resilient and caring, the pillar of strength who everyone relies on. Their overtly gay son, Billy idolises Dolly Parton, and desires nothing more than to win a place at art college in London, though once he is there feels totally out of place among the pretentious arty types commenting, “I’m not wearing ripped jeans. For anyone. Life’s draughty enough.” Feisty daughter Sophie plans to qualify as a ju-jitsu instructor but her plans are scuppered after a mishap, punching her chauvinistic teacher landing him in hospital. She is entirely unresponsive to the timid advances of Pete, a nervous young lovesick plumber, who is forever hanging around to fix the faulty taps!
Tamara Harvey directs this play beautifully and subtly, and designer Ben Stones has created a fully functional shabby kitchen for the play. It is lovely watching the family move about cooking, eating, drinking and washing up and the play works superbly well in the round. The acting is sublime, so believable and realistic we wondered, on the way home if they all had those particular northern accents or not, as they sounded so genuine, the dialect coaches must be congratulated. The characters are so likeable - by the end I felt I cared deeply for each of them, the five cast members produce such natural and fluent ensemble work, the parts seem written for these very people.
There are hilarious interchanges between husband and wife, Steffan Rhodri as Martin and Lisa Palfrey as Kath. Martin cannot understand it when Kath tries to spice up their lives a little by cooking couscous instead of potatoes or laying on an unconventional sushi dinner instead of turkey for Christmas. She gives him chocolate body paint for Valentine’s Day, they eat it on toast! Siblings Ryan Sampson as Billy and Leah Brotherhead as Sophie produce brilliant characterful performances, they are mesmerising to watch. But it is Andy Rush as Pete who caught my eye most, he is utterly convincing as the shy plumber boy, who after losing both his parents, must live with and look after his eccentric gran. Rush somehow manages to be both deeply touching and hilarious.
There are so many unrealistic sitcom type dramas about, it is wonderful to watch a genuinely moving narrative about a family who are just getting by; it is, after all, what so many people’s lives are like. As Kath puts it “All I want… is for the four of us to just: manage. That is all I want.”
Kitchen Sink is a poignant and utterly gripping play, definitely one of my theatre highlights of the year.
Visit the Bush website for more information here.