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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Kitchen Sink
Bush Theatre   Winter 2011

Tom Wells has written a gentle and sweetly sad little comedy about a family that is going nowhere, but with enough love all around that they might just manage to muddle through. 

Father is a village milkman resisting the awareness that he's an anachronism in a Tesco-dominated world. Mother tries to bring some variety to their life through recipe experiments, but courgette muffins and sushi for Christmas dinner don't quite make it. Son is a would-be artist whose imagination doesn't stretch beyond anatomically-correct portraits of Dolly Parton, and daughter is a bit too quick to give up on any ambition that meets the slightest setback. 

The cast also includes the inept local plumber, frequently tending to the titular sink, who would be the daughter's swain if he could ever master the absolute basics of wooing. 

Over the course of a year, not a whole lot happens except that things get a little bit worse for everybody, but Wells reassures us that they'll survive somehow and makes us care enough to hope that they do. 

Making very ordinary characters interesting and finding all the humour in small jokes is a delicate and difficult accomplishment, and high among the pleasures of this play are the awareness of the playwright's mastery and the confidence of putting yourself in his hands and letting him take you where he wants. 

Wells sets himself the added challenge of peopling his play entirely with non-verbal and uneloquent characters, who all have difficulty expressing themselves or even finding the end of a coherent sentence once they've started it, and while the gag may get a little thin after a while, it does endear them all to us. 

There are other things that don't quite work. A four-seasons motif seems imposed on the play just to give it the semblance of a structure. Some of the running gags, like the mother's cooking experiments, seem to be building toward a punchline or topper that never comes. And the 'middle-aged square tries marijuana for the first time' scene hasn't been funny – or believable – for forty years.

Still, it is a tribute to the warmth and reality of Wells' writing and Tamara Harvey's direction that none of these flaws matter. You believe in these people, you like these people and you wish these people well, and that's what the play is about. 

In a uniformly attractive cast, acting honours go to Lisa Palfrey as the mother who is making it up as she goes along and still managing to hold everything together.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Kitchen Sink - Bush Theatre 2011

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