The Kitchen Sink – the hot and cold of kitchen sink realism. (Theatre Review)

The Kitchen Sink

Ensemble Theatre

14 October – 18 November. You can grab your tickets here. 

Images:  Prudence Upton

The only possibility of hope in the relentlessly difficult world of playwright Tom Wells protagonist family comes through the children, which is an optimism that goes decidedly against the social realist concepts of the kitchen sink realist play, The Kitchen Sink. In this way, The Kitchen Sink is more of a homage to this period of film and television, occurring as a very funny version of a realist East Enders or Neighbors. True to capitalist propaganda, a sense of hope exists in the younger generations, when in fact life (particularly for the poor) is getting worse, not better. Billy (Ben Hall) presents as having a potent artistic integrity that he refuses to allow to be crushed by the elite system controlling art, and Sophie (Contessa Treffone) overcomes the blocks preventing her from finding happiness with Pete (Duncan Ragg) and career fulfilment. Director Shane Bosher emphasizes the lightness of the narrative, playing more to the jokes than to the realist tragedy of white poverty but Tom Well’s title sits over the top of everything, and we are flung into a time bracket bookended by the kitchen sink realist art of the late 1950’s and 2011 when the play was written: seventy years. Little has changed in the world of the poor, except for the obvious point that Kath (Hannah Waterman) and Martin (Huw Higginson) were not born when kitchen sink realism was a movement, and therefore if the plight of the white poor has changed, it is for the worse. However, kitchen sink realism continues to contain the optimism of the better life.

Crucial Tom Wells’ analysis of kitchen sink realism comes through in the way Shane Bosher sublimates work. For Martin, the old kitchen sink realism stands tall. He doesn’t perform the work of a milkman, he IS a Milkman. However, work for Kath, Billy and Sophie is a means to an end, an aspect they try to wield (Sophie) or endure (Kath and Billy). The sweet, simple Pete IS a Plumber, but his pink van is symbolically tied to Martin’s milk float, and we can’t avoid the sense that he is performing the modern milk run just as Sophie is marrying her father. Shane Bosher calls forth the comedy of the piece through excellent performances that highlight the idea that capitalism is inherently romantic. Capitalism controls by propaganda and the basic mechanism by which it operates is not to change specific subjective dispositions like beliefs and opinions, but by connecting existing subjective dispositions with actions it wants us to perform. It does not manipulate desire but proposes an object to it. Propaganda changes the way individuals are integrated into society. We know, from The Kitchen Sink, that Sophie, Pete and Billy are headed for the same future as Martin and Kath, because their attempts at independence (Sophie’s teaching women to be powerful, Pete’s business and Billy’s artistic freedom that will never be acknowledged) integrate them more into the system their parents suffer from, rather than liberate them from the patterns. As propaganda becomes dominant it severs the ties between subjective dispositions and action: individuals become less capable of autonomous action and are reliant on propaganda to supply objects to which their desire might attach itself.  Ironically Sophie’s attempt at creating a feminist job, will integrate her deeper into a patriarchal system using her feminism to lure her. It is uncontrolled desire that is the enemy of capitalism, not ideas, beliefs and dispositions.

The Kitchen Sink is a marvelous play, filled with interesting characters that exemplify and portray the points above. Each characters is recognizable and yet equally contains the faint whiff of yesteryear in Tom Wells portrayal. Shane Bosher does a wonderful job with casting and calling forth great performances, with each cast member becoming more endearing and warm as the play progresses and equally succinctly emblematic of their allotted place in history. When Kath picks up her spanner and beats the kitchen sink in protest, we feel a profoundly deep sense of something important slipping through our fingers.

All the performances on Charles Davis’ marvelous set are superb. No one put a foot wrong and the comedy is delightfully and artfully wrought. Alexander Berlage evokes a wonderful time transition between scenes of morning moving to night in the kitchen window that also manages to convey a sense of months and years flowing by. Ben Hall, a beautifully gentle and fragile Billy, is posited well against Duncan Ragg who shows all the same signs of wise emotionally delicate Pete. A fight to establish masculinity between the two men is one of the shows highlights. Contessa Treffone is very funny as the hapless Sophie and makes the most of her character when it is written at its most interesting, prior to her conversion to sweetness. Hannah Waterman and Huw Higginson are superb as Kath and Martin, the powerhouse couple doing their best to make it day to day, crushed by knowing they’ll never beak even, let alone get ahead.

The Kitchen Sink is a fascinating, beautifully directed challenge and homage to kitchen sink realism that remains identified with its theatrical presentation rather than moving toward it soap opera state. Its very funny, extremely well comically performed and an excellent night of enjoyable theatre in Sydney. Grab a meal at Bayly’s Bistro before you head in and make a night of it with a bunch of friends. You’ll have a blast.