THE KITCHEN SINK
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 29th September, 2016
One advantage the New Vic has when it comes to naturalistic works is the intimacy afforded by the in-the-round setting. The audience becomes all four walls of the room, and these walls have ears (and eyes too) to witness what transpires within this family’s home. Bronia Housman’s set looks lived-in while giving the action room to breathe. The kitchen/dining room is surrounded by thousands of milk bottle tops – Dad Martin is a milkman: his home is built on the fruits of his labours.
We meet Mum, Kath, (an excellent Emma Gregory) a warm-hearted, loving, funny woman, a problem-solver and supportive mother. There is a warmth emanating from Gregory’s characterisation, even when she’s not saying a word. Kath is the heart of this home and the production. Her husband (Jason Furnival) is less optimistic, less open to change, in a thoroughly realistic depiction of an embittered working-class man, striving to survive the prevailing economic climate. His business is suffering because of the rise of Tesco and his float is on its last legs. Meanwhile, daughter Sophie (Alice Proctor) ‘helps out’ having lost her own job when Woolworth’s closed down.
Proctor is superb – we come to understand her as the play goes on and her of her boyfriend and also the judge of her jujitsu exam, in a subtle revelation that is touching. Tom Wells’s writing makes us care about these people from the off. Dan Parr is also great as Sophie’s awkward but good-natured plumber boyfriend Pete. Tongue-tied and sweet, he endears himself to us immediately – and makes us laugh a lot, too.
Completing the family is the likeable Steven Roberts as son Billy, sensitive and artistic with a passion for Dolly Parton. Billy is heading for art college in London and it is refreshing to see a play in which the gay character’s sexuality is not the issue. It just is what it is. Roberts is a mass of youthful energy, and teenage attitude, and Wells’s writing convinces. The family rings true; there is a lot of love in this house. I defy you not to care about them.
Director Zoe Waterman handles the humour expertly. No beat is missed and yet the dialogue comes across as natural, the laughs organic rather than set-ups. Even the moments of broad comedy (due mostly to the eponymous sink) come within the bounds of plausibility. Waterman gets the tone exactly right throughout. She has her cast continue to act during scene transitions (underscored by Ms Parton’s biggest hits). It all makes for an entertaining evening – it’s an absolute pleasure to spy on these people and have our funny bones tickled and our heartstrings tugged.
This is the “hard-working family” we hear so much about, large as life and before our very eyes, trampled beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of big business. The play makes its points subtly, through the personal lives of the characters and their relationships.
A flawless production, heart-warming and hilarious. We see the characters’ dreams go down the drain but they have plenty of love on tap.