Set in the kitchen of a family in Hull, Fourth Wall Theatre’s The Kitchen Sink is a compassionate play that beautifully explores the commonplace. The set creates a solidly believable and cozy home environment, with detailed touches like glass milk bottles, a child’s drawing, photographs, and a ‘home is where the milk is’ sign. In contrast with the angry and disillusioned realism of the 1950s that the title brings to mind, this is a heartwarming play where malfunctioning kitchen appliances are both a realistic representation of a household’s daily struggles, and a symbol of a family trying to grow up and grow old together. The team successfully delivers this comedy with good chemistry, timing, and hilarious expressions.
Martin is a milkman who tries to keep his milk float together with masking tape, even as Tesco has come to replace 25 years of getting to know people and now their grandchildren. His wife, Kath, struggles with the dysfunctional kitchen sink as she seeks to support the aspirations of her children – Billy’s ambitions in art and Sophie’s hopes in ju-jitsu. The cast’s well-developed and nuanced characters and relationships not only bring the comedy to life, but bring life to the comedy, as it is the realism of their family life that makes it so entertaining.
Eleanor McIntyre accurately portrays a familiar maternal figure in Kath, whose warmth and energy clearly keeps the family together through hardship. The dynamic with her husband Martin, played by Cameron Ashplant, shines a light on the little quirks and disagreements of an old married couple. Ashplant characterises a reserved father figure whose delayed realisations bring many laughs, and whose evident passion for his milk float creates a genuine drive. Howe certainly portrays the fear and ambitions of Billy with convincing humanity, especially with respect to the tensions this causes with his father. It was enjoyable to watch his close relationship with his mother and their mutual love of Dolly Parton. Antonia Hogan’s Sophie is a sympathetic character, whose self-confidence makes her frustration very authentic, and her responses to Pete (Tom Salter) complement his adorable awkwardness well. Salter accomplishes much with his time on stage, with nervousness and shyness that shows in the details of his performance.
The opening scene sets the tone well, with Kath busily preparing dinner while trying to reassure her son Billy, who frets over his portrait of Dolly Parton’s nipples, which he intends to submit for getting into a London art school. The blend of their hilarious dialogue, genuine insecurity, and familial bonds immediately bring concerns over seemingly trivial details and bigger dreams into focus. Billy’s concern over how people in London would perceive his work introduces the idea of relative scale of the family to the larger world, and a sense of the play’s focus on what may normally be at the periphery.
Indeed, the way the family’s worries over little things fit into a larger backdrop of issues is steadily developed over the course of the play. Whereas all the action takes place within the kitchen, there is a palpable sense of yearning towards a life beyond, which is especially evident in the ambitions of Sophie and Billy, and their parents’ hopes for them. Even as we are amused by the way Martin is unamused with Kath’s attempts to bring couscous and sushi to the dinner table, we begin to understand more about the world that frames the family – the globalisation and ever-changing trends that render Martin’s business irrelevant, and makes his insistence on doing ‘milkmanly things’ more heartbreaking.
One of the themes that really struck me was miscommunication in the family – how everyone clearly cares so much about one another, but it is not always easy to show love. The way Martin is unable to verbally communicate his affection, and the way Pete’s encouragement to Sophie is perceived as another reminder of her failure, are just some examples. Miscommunication often creates comic moments, but it is also a display of the way we try to reach out for each other, ultimately it is a regular feature of families that makes them so special.
There were bits of the play I was less sure about – the scenes about Pete’s weed-loving grandmother were funny but seemed a bit incredulous. Kath going mental on the kitchen sink with a hammer was perhaps a necessary moment for the maternal figure to present her attempts at making little changes to family life plainly, yet it somehow felt to detract from the build-up of the play. These are largely my issues with the script, which I felt hindered its development.
Overall, The Kitchen Sink was a highly enjoyable play that kept me delighted throughout, with characters and themes that I would love to see more of, and the entire team must be commended for doing an amazing job. It is being performed again on the 13th of March at 7:30pm.
Image: taken from the Fourth Wall Theatre’s Facebook page
By Lim Jia Ying