Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Kitchen Sink

Tom Wells
Oldham Coliseum Company
Oldham Coliseum
09 February 2018 to 24 February 2018

This was one of Yorkshire playwright Tom Wells’s first plays; it won him a lot of praise and was a fair-sized hit back in 2011, mainly because it takes a conventional situation and subverts it slightly.

In fact at first Chris Lawson’s production at the Coliseum offers an odd structure and storytelling style that reminds the viewer of a series of sitcom sketches strung together to produce well, not very much.

When you learn that Wells, who also wrote last year’s Coliseum hit “Jumpers for Goalposts” (two years after Sink, and he clearly learned a lot in the interim), really hadn’t seen or written much theatre up to this point, you realise that the ill-defined structure and style are probably a feature of his early writing, not this production.

Where Wells instead excels is in the humour and drama of everyday life, as lived in the kitchen of this ordinary home. “Nothing changes and everything changes” says one of the characters early-on, and it’s our slogan for the evening.

The family is more than a bit resistant to change: dinner-lady mum (Sue Devaney, as exciting to watch and charm-filled as ever) wants her brood to try new things to help them to escape the confines of their dying town - even if they include disastrous ideas such as courgette muffins, or sushi for Christmas dinner, let alone couscous for her milkman husband’s (William Travis) evening meal.

Her frustration leads her to take a hammer to the sink’s bad plumbing, with not exactly useful results until daughter Sophie’s shy friend and would-be plumber Pete, who clearly adores the girl, helps out.

Martin, the milkman, is reluctant to close his milk round, even though he is losing customers and his float is failing fast. William Travis is good at the stubborn hanging-on to failing things, even when his character realises a job at Tesco is nigh...

Kath’s two kids, Sophie (Emily Stott) and Billy (Sam Glen), are a bit diffident, to offset mum’s enthusiasm. Billy is gay - though this is hardly a theme or area of drama - and has got into a London art college with a portrait of Dolly Parton. His lecturers think it is ironic and kitsch, but he painted it seriously, as a tribute to his inspiration. No wonder he’s confused, lonely and soon will think of quitting college. Parton’s music adds a Dollylicious note to scene-changes, by the way.

Sophie adds a slight note of conflict because for the first hour or more her attitude is unpleasant and cranky and she seems doomed to failure - even though a jiu-jitsu black belt is within her grasp and a career teaching it to children on the horizon. When we learn why she slugged her examiner we can start to understand her reluctance to be around Pete (the highly-watchable David Judge), whom she clearly likes back but pushes away, and who seems to be the only one of the group moving onward and upward.

The longer you watch the more you come to realise that this is neither modern nor traditional theatre but a mix of the two: the situation is all too familiar and funny but the dialogue human and often serious too, emotional and even socio-political. It just wears its feelings well.

The Kitchen Sink an engaging piece that won’t win awards but will leave a thinking audience genuinely entertained.

Reviewer: Paul Genty

Comments

Comment by David Chadderton

I largely agree with Paul on this.

He's certainly right to single out David Judge, who gives a perfectly measured performance throughout. For me, it only started coming together when his Pete and daughter Sophie came back nervously from the almost-date as both young actors found the unusual staccato rhythm of the dialogue which makes great use of unfinished sentences and implication to try to mimic natural speech. This also brings out the humour in a way that others missed by ignoring the rhythm and falling back on tried and tested comic business we've seen them do many times before.

There is some unevenness in the production as well as the performances. The play is quite televisual at times with short scenes that end suddenly, and lengthy staged scene changes in partial light kill the pace and really drag out the running time. There are a couple of times when Dolly Parton's music is played as part of the scene, but they go on for far too long with too little happening.

Paul is spot on when he says the play is neither modern nor traditional. On the surface, it looks like the sort of northern comedy we commonly see at the Coliseum but with added strong language, modern references and pot smoking and with fast-moving, impressionistic dialogue a bit like David Mamet, but not nearly as sweary.

As Paul says, it won't win awards for originality, but it entertains and amuses sufficiently for a fun night out.

Comment by Alan Hulme

Yes, I think most of my colleagues comments are valid but overall I enjoyed it rather more than they seem to have done and I notice that reviewers elsewhere have also been more generous.

Bottom line, it is a very entertaining piece and one where, despite its apparent stock format, one is never sure what will happen next.

Happily for the Coliseum, audiences are going for it in a big way - I was at last Saturday's matinee, perched right up in the rafters as they were the only seats available and lucky to get in at all. The all-powerful word of mouth is obviously exceptionally favourable.