Differing attitudes to change are the focus of “Kitchen Sink” which earned playwright Tom Wells the Critics Theatre Award in 2011 and the George Devine Award in 2012. Originally staged by Terence O’Connell in 2012, this year’s touring production staged by David Bell and presented by Red Stitch Actors Theatre began at Gasworks Theatre.
This 90 minute play with no interval focuses on a Yorkshire family over a 12 month period facing small and big changes. On a well designed set by Benjamin Shaw, we are introduced to the inner abode of this working class unit; striking black and white chequered floor tiles contrast well with the neutral coloured 80's styled kitchen on the right that has seen better days and desperately in need of a plumber, with a small eating area on the left. More of the house is suggested through the open door entrance at the back leading to further rooms via the hallway. Two low hanging cane pendant lights over both areas add an effective touch. Matriarch and dinner lady Kath (guest actor Chris Keogh) tries hard to keep it altogether alongside her milkman husband Martin (guest actor Russell Fletcher), looking after and nurturing their two adult kids; aspiring artist Billy (played by ensemble member Tim Potter) and JiuJitsu fanatic Sophie (VCA graduate Kristina Brew). Into this familial mix enters the appealing Pete (played by recent ensemble member Paul Ashcroft) – plumber and admirer to the resistant Sophie.
The strength in the writing is showing rather than telling us about the harsh reality of this working class family as they attempt to inject hope into their life of toil and disappointment. Bell manages to capture this with clever staging within the space, allowing for natural movement and flow within the myriad of small vignette scenes and creating some affecting opportunities of dual dialogue exchanges, as well as some funny and poignant whole cast interactions. The short song and dance routine by Billy and Kath when he’s accepted into Art School contrasted with the mournful song after the milk float ‘dies’ were strokes of genius. The use of Dolly Parton tunes blending one time period to the next was also a great decision, as it helped move the slow pace created by the numerous blackout scene changes, as well as feeding into the idea of Billy’s artistic obsession.
Keogh shone in her role as the hardworking, exasperated yet practical maternal figure. Her apt and dry delivery of one liners and comical facial reactions garnered her lots of laughs and our empathy. What’s more, her affectionate and believable chemistry with Fletcher also added to the spirit and energy of the play. Fletcher’s passion for milk delivery was very engaging and contrasted beautifully with his latter scenes as he farewells that life and looks despondently to the future as a potential Tesco employee. Potter played the son with aplomb, creating laughs with his obsession with Dolly and his rude awakening into the College art world of London. Unfortunately, Brew wasn’t as consistently convincing – at times appearing awkward rather than wounded, jarring where moments of connection could have been more effective, and was further complicated by poor and rushed enunciation at times (always difficult when incorporating such a strong accent). However, the scene where she breaks down with Pete was quite moving and showed potential. Ashcroft was a delight – delivering that perfect pitch of self consciousness with endearing believability.
Overall, it was a commendable effort by Red Stitch to once again stage this glimpse into an ordinary family facing adjustments in an ever-changing landscape – one that requires honesty and risk taking and most of all family support. As a touring show this year, it will no doubt shine a light on these ideas, as well as the strengths and talents of the imaginative and eclectic group of Red Stitch.