Tom Wells’ play, The Kitchen Sink, is so self-effacing that at first it’s surprising that he won awards for it, including the UK’s Most Promising Playwright, when it was first staged at London’s Bush Theatre. However, its understatement goes along with maturity, wit and humanity, with convincing characterisation and the ability to make essentially nice people interesting. The title derives from a faulty kitchen sink, but also Wells’ regard for the “kitchen sink” dramas of some 50 years ago. His play’s setting and realistic behaviour follow that tradition, but the likes of Osborne and Wesker were always much more strident and opinionated; Wells is mild without being anodyne.
The play is precisely located in Withernsea, in the family of Martin the milkman. All the family face turning points in their lives, though no difficulties are completely solved and no tragic conclusions occur – it’s just day-to-day life with decisions, events and doubts until you find that somehow you’ve reached a different place. Martin has a failing milk-float and unequal competition from the supermarkets; daughter Sophie has a desperate need to achieve black belt at ju jitsu and problems with sexist men; son Billy’s artistic talent leans towards adoring portraits of Dolly Parton which are hardly likely to appeal to the artistic sensibilities of tutors and students at the art school to which he aspires; Kath, the mother, has the general listening/soothing/solving role – and that’s her problem! Pete, the diffident grandma-obeying plumber, hints ever so gently at a more intimate relationship with Sophie.
Tessa Walker’s production, in Bob Bailey’s suitably detailed designs, echoes the modesty, humanity and intelligence of the text. The cast of five form an excellent ensemble, playing off each other sympathetically. Sophie-Louise Dann and Huw Higginson are totally believable as a married couple, much of their relationship implied; Ben Stott has the nearest thing to a flamboyant role as the gay artist son and takes full advantage without straining for effect; Jamie Samuel finds the humour in Pete the gauche suitor, but never loses touch with his decency. Then there is Sophie. Laura Elsworthy was scheduled for the role and apparently made a good impression in the previews before being hospitalised. Fully prepared understudies being a luxury these days, the always admirable Catherine Kinsella was recruited to take over with script in hand. She plays the part with sincerity and good judgement, as I’m sure Ms Elsworthy will if she returns to the production as planned.
And the best news is that Tom Wells has been signed up as an Associate Playwright at Hull Truck.