DISCLAIMER: This is a review of a preview performance, the show hasn't opened to official critics yet. I normally avoid previews as they can vary so wildly in quality compared to the finished article, and I can't recall what my reasoning was for going for only the second public performance this time. Whatever the reason it was a good gamble as, from an audience member's perspective at least, this didn't feel in the least like an early preview. No mistakes that I noticed, and the production rushes along, I imagine the main difference in the main run will be maybe five minutes off the running time (although it'll still be about two hours, not one as the clock in the foyer erroneously suggested tonight.)
The title The Kitchen Sink
suggests a particularly gritty, dark kind of theatre but while the family in Tom Wells' play are going through a rough patch this is for the most part a comedy, and a very funny one. Sand on stage is apparently my theme for the week, this time Ben Stones' kitchen set sits on sand representing Withernsea, a seaside Yorkshire town gradually eroding and falling into the sea. It's not somewhere you want to get stuck in and mum Kath (Lisa Palfrey) is hoping cooking a new recipe every day will give her family the hint not to get stuck in a rut. But her husband Martin (Steffan Rhodri) continues with his milk round despite the fact that the customers are steadily dropping off, as are bits of the milk float. At least daughter Sophie (Leah Brotherhead) has plans to become a ju-jitsu teacher, and son Billy (Ryan Sampson) might get into a London art school - so long as they don't realise his sequin-covered Dolly Parton portrait isn't
ironic. Meanwhile the titular broken kitchen sink gives plumber Pete (Andy Rush; apparently cute skinny boys are another theme this week)
plenty of excuses to come round and indulge his unrequited love for Sophie.
Tamara Harvey's production is just perfectly cast, from Palfrey's immensely likeable, self-described "hobbit" mum, to Rhodri's gruff dad, to Rush's adorable plumber. Sampson meanwhile has perfected the art of making the word "oh" into comic gold on its own as the camp son with a Parton fixation. The script gives them so much to play with, the play's full of quotable one-liners and Wells is surely another writer who should have sitcom-writing offers coming in soon. He's very good at funny-sad moments, like Kath's attempts to get the romance going by buying Martin chocolate body paint for Valentine's Day: "We just had it on toast." Staging in the round is a good fit for the Bush's new venue, getting around the four supporting pillars without them blocking anyone's view, but it is an occasionally frustrating choice for this production, with its nuanced performances - Brotherhead in particular is good at those tiny reactions which get a huge laugh, but in this case from only half the audience. But there were moments when it was my side of the audience seeing these and others when it was those opposite me so I guess it balances out. For a bittersweet show that tends more towards the sweet side this is one I'd happily recommend: I thought Wells had promise after his debut Me, As A Penguin
; this is better. (And as with the earlier play, the playtext programme once again has a bonus monologue, this time the rather heartbreaking Spacewang
.)The Kitchen Sink
by Tom Wells is booking until the 17th of December at the (new) Bush Theatre.