THE KITCHEN SINK
by Tom Wells
Directed by Mandy Mallinson
Droylsden Little Theatre
‘The Kitchen Sink’ by Tom Wells is a recent (2011) adaptation of a traditional 1950s family ‘kitchen sink’ drama. With acerbic moments of laugh-out-loud comedy set around a family’s ‘dreams, dramas and dirty dishes,’ Droylsden Little Theatre presented an excellent look into the trials, tribulations and miscommunications of a typical millennial family.
Set in the fictional coastal town of Withernsea, Yorkshire, we are given various vignettes of a family’s life over a twelve-month period. As the kitchen tap breaks down, so do various elements of the family’s life: Martin’s milk-float, his customer base, Sophie’s ju-jitsu dreams and Billy’s aspirations of art-school. Held together by dinner-lady mum Kath, ‘The Kitchen Sink’ is a gentle comedy, and whilst containing no earth-shattering dramatics, is a rosy portrayal of a typical family as we peer in through their window at various stages of the year.
The first thing which struck the audience about this production was the impressive and realistic set. A true ‘kitchen sink’ drama in every sense of the words calls for a true ‘kitchen sink,’ and what we were presented with, designed by Tony Birch, was a realistic, and importantly, working kitchen and family dining room. With plenty of playing space to work with, the set really was a superb effort and lovely space for the family to ‘live’ in.
As well as imposing and impressive, importantly the set looked authentically ‘lived in’ and not like a show-home as some sets often do. Believable attention to details, such as grime on the tiles, marks on the door and door handles at odds with each other did not go unnoticed and the working fridge and cooker were very clever pieces of set design. The hint of ‘upstairs’ and outside the window worked excellently and the audience was impressed (applause on opening of the tabs) at how great the set looked. The all-important kitchen sink itself, with full exploding running water was brilliantly presented.
Properties were all excellent and in keeping with the contemporary period the play was set in, thanks to Connie Brooksbank. A couple of great portraits of Dolly Parton (integral to the story) and again, like the house, props were ‘lived in.’ Burned oven gloves and a newspaper recycling bin which got fuller as the production went on were really lovely touches. Attention to detail was key to this production: a full biscuit barrel with real cups of tea to drink, a Christmas tree, a plate of sushi and some toast! I went into the interval craving some toast – a very realistic presentation of an everyday house throughout the year.
Lighting by Mandy Mallinson and Ben Fox was natural with no real need for special cues, except for the spotlight on Dolly’s portrait at one point which was effective, and washes to represent night and day. Sound effects - boiling kettle, motorbike passing in the distance, cassette player working, milk-float being towed away - were all timed efficiently and at the right level, by Angela Kemp. Often a bug bear of mine when it is wrong, the smoke alarm was played at the correct side of the stage. Attention to detail for all cues was sharp.
Some lovely song choices, too, linking moments between scenes either to establish mood or continue a theme, with ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ getting an extra laugh, as well as the Japanese version of ‘Jingle Bells.’
I feel that I must mention some unnecessary prop-shifting as, for me, it did detract from the naturalism of the play and which , by Act 2, had become somewhat tedious, and was noted by the audience. In some black-outs we had the props team come on simply to move one tea towel; later to move a cake-stand; take the bread out of the bread bin or, in one instance, JUST push a chair back under the table. This was really unnecessary, especially in changes which were meant to be the same day and not indicate a passing of time: the actors themselves could have easily achieved some of these changes ‘in their own home’ rather than having a nightly visitor in black shift their accoutrements around.
Keeping the family together through all their trials and tribulations was Tracey Parker as Kath. Tracey’s comedy timings and characterisations are always excellent (especially when working with the Victoria Wood-esque script here) but to see the ‘other side’ of her in her emotional and affectionate scenes was lovely, and beautifully played. Her matriarchal head of the family was just the right amount of imposing and the perfect amount of caring for all those around her: she really could have been the mum of both Sophie and Billy, so clear was the affection. Her care and worry over the loss of the milk-float was heart-rending for all and a complete juxtaposition to her stony performance of ‘Abide with Me.’ A very strong, and ultimately completely believable, performance from Tracey which was central to the success of the family unit - ultimately this play.
Keira RIchardson’s feistily confident portrayal of troubled twenty-one-year-old Sophie was excellent. Presenting the audience with her hard, no-nonsense exterior from the offset was all the more emotive in Act 2 when we finally realise why her barriers are up. Rooting for her to let Pete ‘in’ and warm to his affections, Keira’s naturally defiant, at times petulant, performance (including nonchalant brew drinking and biscuit nibbling) was most effective when playing opposite Daniel. Her swearing wasn’t over-done (although shocked some of the ladies sitting near me!) with my favourite laugh-out-line “I’m a brown belt and Keith’s a prick!’ Yet, despite this brashness, there was a vulnerable warmth to her character, which made it all the more three-dimensional. A great, natural presentation: well done, Keira.
Conservative head of the family, Martin, played by Eddie Bradbury, was another strong performance. Attached to his milk float and facing stiff competition from Tesco, his milk-float monologue was excellent as he brought life to the mundane trivialities of Martin’s life – we hung on to every word as we became embroiled and invested in this family’s everyday life. We certainly got the impression that, although aloof, he intently cared about his family as he, and we, realised that “a little bit of change” is perhaps sometimes a necessity. The dry barb about cous-cous being ‘African Dust’ was perfectly timed and garnered a great response from the audience.
From standing on a chair yodelling Dolly to his ‘attack’ of his sister trying to prepare him for University, Jake’s presentation of gay-teenager, Billy, hit all the right notes. His scenes with Tracey, preparing him for university life with enough cake to feed all his flatmates, were tender and touching and his dejected return from University was played at a completely different level than his excited apprehension when first setting out. A very strong supporting performance from Jake, rounding off the family unit perfectly.
Friend-of-the-family, Pete (Daniel Cope) and bumbling potential love-interest of Sophie, delivered some cracking one-liners throughout the play, namely about his weed-smoking, Jay-Z loving, Gran. From first-date hesitation to plans of travelling the world, we see his character grow throughout the course of the year - especially to the emotional scene following the death of his off-stage Gran when he returns the buffet trays to Kath. Always happy to help try and fix the dysfunctional kitchen sink. Daniel played Pete almost as a love-struck puppy around Sophie, timid and shy in just the right capacity. The ju-jitsu scene was excellently rehearsed, and was hilarious as was the marijuana smoking scene, but Daniel shone in his scenes with Sophie as he tried to convince her to follow her dreams. Beautiful playing.
Speaking after the performance to the director, Mandy Mallinson, she explained she had wanted to achieve a naturalistic and stripped back family presentation as opposed to anything ‘acted.’ With her very talented company and clear direction, Mandy managed to achieve just that: a very believable, warm family presentation allowing the audience clear moments of recognition as the script held a mirror up to our own family trials and tribulations.
A superb evening at the theatre. Well done to everyone involved and thank you, once again, for a most lovely and warm welcome.