Oldham Coliseum Company
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