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Posts Tagged ‘The Kitchen Sink’

Playwright Tom Wells earned his ‘must see’ place on my list with two of the most heart-warming and funny plays of recent years – The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts (oh, and a lovely monologue as part of Unusual Unions backstage at the Royal Court) – so I pounced at the chance to see this one-hour one-person musical, with songs by Matthew Robins, in the Bush Theatre’s Reading Room on a brief visit from Hull, and what a delight it is.

The audience is standing in for the school assembly and 15-year-old Liam is making a project prize presentation, a musical about his friend Caz’s planned synchronised swimming project. She’s an offstage character who we get to know almost as well, a trademark of Wells’ work, as is her dad, his mum & her new man Barry and the lifeguard at the pool. Liam talks and sings us through his year from arriving in Hull through meeting Caz, her previous projects and the development of this one. Most of the time he’s standing with his guitar, but he relocates a couple of times and the audience participate in a prop-handling sort of way before eventually becoming the chorus.

Wells has a real ear for teenage dialogue and both the writing and Andrew Finnigan’s charming performance ooze authenticity, including the not always perfect guitar playing and singing, and every single facial expression and posture. It’s brilliant storytelling, which feels like you’re reading Liam’s diary of a year of growing up, friendship and fledgling love. Jane Fallowfield’s homespun staging is completely in tune with the material, which the venue seemed to complement too.

Just as heart-warming and funny as his other plays, surly we’ll see more than this handful of performances?

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Tom Wells’ The Kitchen Sink at the Bush Theatre was one of my best new plays of 2011 and I will be surprised if this doesn’t end up as one of the best of 2013. He seems to have cornered the market in feel-good, charming, heart-warming, uplifting plays. It’s appropriate that it’s co-produced by Hull Truck as it’s very much in the spirit of their 1980’s work (and indeed in the spirit of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, about to get a West End revival).

We’re back in Hull, in a changing room after each of six football matches. It’s a Sunday 5-a-side league comprising just four gay teams and our team, Barely Athletic, are up against The Lesbian Rovers, Man City and Tranny United! Coach / player Viv has been thrown out by the lesbians and is determined to win something, anything; deputy coach / player Danny is using this experience as part of his coaching studies and Viv’s bereaved brother-in-law Joe is the token straight. Busker Beardy can’t decide what to play at his Hull Pride audition and new boy, library assistant Luke, has been recruited by Danny for more than footballing interest.

It’s a bit of a slow start, but once you get to know the characters its captivating. Danny & Luke’s relationship develops, Joe’s grief is exposed, Viv’s competitiveness becomes obsessive and Beardy’s promiscuousness risks team success. Even though you’re only with these people for 90 minutes, you feel like you’ve known them for a whole lot longer; great characterisation. Add to this some very funny lines and deeply human stories to tell, and they play has you under its spell. Watford Palace is a big theatre for such an intimate piece, but Lucy Osborne’s design draws you into the changing room to compensate.

All five actors are excellent. Vivienne Gibbs conveys Viv’s drive, energy and competitiveness, you really feel for Matt Sutton’s Joe and Andy Rush (also superb in The Kitchen Sink) makes Geoff hapless but completely loveable. Jamie Samuel invests real emotional power in Danny and Philip Duguid-McQuillan is simply extraordinary as naive, lonely, socially inept 19-year-old virgin Luke. There is a moment when he reads from his diary when I was laughing out loud and crying at the same time.

Don’t wait until the promised autumn tour – get to Watford to see it in its final week and you’ll probably want to see it again in the autumn. Another triumph for the indispensable Paines Plough.

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This is very different to The Kitchen Sink, the last play at the Bush. It also has a kitchen sink – well, a whole kitchen – but that’s about where the similarities end. Whereas the previous ‘blue collar’ play was warm funny and feelgood this slice of middle class life is colder but just as thought-provoking and a little bit scary.

Hazel hasn’t really worked out what parenting means but is now heavily pregnant with her second child. She’s quit her job as a hot-shot lawyer and has misguidedly set up a lifestyle business at home importing olive oil from Sicily. Husband Richard is a successful plastic surgeon whose mercy missions to the third world at first seem altruistic but ultimately prove to be somewhat more self-serving. Son Daniel is a little troubled, and in trouble for his inappropriate attentions to a fellow pupil. Young Annie turns up from Sligo, employed by Richard to help Hazel with childcare (though he didn’t tell her) and their lives turn upside down. We eventually realise that Annie has ‘chosen’ Richard, as he becomes besotted with her. Hazel is betrayed and Daniel is caught in the middle.

Kate Fleetwood is simply terrific as Hazel. It’s a difficult emotional ride from former ice maiden through yummy mummy to woman scorned to epiphany when she ‘gets’ parenthood, but she does it brilliantly. Though pompous and vain Richard comes dangerously close to caricature, it’s a tribute to Mark Bazeley that in the second act much of the audience looked like they were about to march on the stage and give him a slap! Denise Gough’s brings out Annie’s complexity as she moves from naive young Irish girl to somewhat spooky predator. I think it was Jude Willoughby playing Daniel on the night I went and he was outstanding.

It takes a while before you uncover the depths in Nancy Harris’ play, and in the second act the twists and dark humour are occasionally overplayed, but ultimately I found it very satisfying and I’ve been reflecting on the awesome challenge of modern parenting ever since. I didn’t leave the theatre with the warm glow I had after The Kitchen Sink, but I did leave feeling stimulated and entertained in equal measure.

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