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The Kitchen

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Following the fine Royal Court revival of Arnold Wesker’s Chicken Soup With Barley, the National presents another of the playwright’s famous early plays, The Kitchen, which the Court re-visited in Stephen Daldry’s coruscating, immersive production in 1994.

The highest compliment I can pay Bijan Sheibani is that his new NT production, part of the Travelex £12 tickets scheme, and superbly designed and costumed by Giles Cadle and Moritz Junge, is every bit as good as Daldry’s, just as brilliantly choreographed.

And maybe it’s a touch more cosmopolitan, and not just because the riotous ritual is interspersed with frozen tableaux and blasts of wheezy Russian music.

The shape of this play – which premiered in Sloane Square 1959 and came to full stage fruition there in 1961, directed by John Dexter – is everything: the staff assembles in the early morning and their chopping and slopping, sifting and basting reaches a frenzied climax with the lunchtime rush.

An afternoon interlude sees the boiled fish cook, Peter, build his fantasy archway to the future, an escape route from the hell-hole of his employment and post-War British deadliness.

But then it’s back to business as usual as dinner-time looms, with ever more personal and desperate confrontations, the strange incursion of a tramp looking for hand-outs, and a violent conclusion, bursting like an angry boil.

Even in such a mechanical ensemble construct, Peter is clearly the main character, and the extraordinary Tom Brooke, as physically pliant as an elasticated question mark, makes of the temperamental young German an ironic magnet for everyone else’s madness and urgency.

For the kitchen of the Tivoli restaurant in London is also a lunatic asylum, and a microcosm of a new ethnically tumultuous Britain, with quarrels and friendship, snobbery and love affairs all mixed up with the business of the work place.

The kitchen is physically represented in steel and wooden work surfaces, pots, pans, and glowing gas rings; but the ingredients are entirely imaginary, the dishes merely fanciful.

A wonderfully well drilled cast of thirty includes a bigoted old sweat from Vincenzo Nicoli, a gargantuan Jewish vegetable cook from Tricia Kelly, Rory Keenan as the new Irishman on fried fish (and just his luck it’s a Friday!), Katie Lyons as Peter’s married lover and Bruce Myers as the hapless proprietor, rising above the mayhem to literally conduct the operation as the steam rises along with the temperature.


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