Archive | October, 2011

Life in the Pressure Cooker: The Kitchen

12 Oct

It might have been better if John Dexter, then a nascent directorial star with The Royal Court Theatre, hadn’t loved Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen so much.

Tom Brooke and Rory Keenan fight over the hob

Written for a 1954 Sunday Observer competition which it didn’t win, The Kitchen still seems not quite ready for public consumption.  The wit is slow, the repartee unnatural and the rehashed structure clumsy in its transparency.  But Dexter, having wowed The Royal Court’s artistic director with his productions of Wesker’s Chicken Soup with Barley and Roots, seemed to want to show he could direct even a text previously turned down by the theatre he was working in.

The original version of the script was without interlude or interval; a single relentless scene of life in a restaurant kitchen.  Dexter told Wesker to break it up with a quiet section.  “He didn’t care what it as about as long as it broke the intensity of the two ‘work’ parts,” writes Wesker.  The resulting “dream sequence” at the beginning of the second act does just this: it breaks the frenetic energy of the working kitchen, but that’s all it does.  It has no cohesion with the first act and is painfully signposted in the second act.  Because of this it remains quite obviously a dramatic device, a necessary addition, rather than an organic – or useful – development in the plot.

The cast move naturally between dialogue and dance

But if the script fails in its attempts at loftiness, it succeeds at its simplest level: to show life in the pressure cooker environment of a commercial kitchen.  And some of the acting is superb.  Tom Brooke weaves his way fluidly around the onstage labyrinth of kitchen units, all the while twitching with the nervous energy of his character Peter.  Physically the play is mesmerising: twice the actors slide into quasi-dance routines to show the repetitive and intricate nature of their work.  Movement Director Aline David can be proud of the way this blends into the rest of the play.

Rory Keenan and Katie Lyons deserve mentions for their honest depictions of Kevin and Monique.  Luke Norris brings a spark to Michael and Bruce Myers gets the ponderous, surly Marango just right.

Watch this play for its fabulous set.  Watch it for its actors, its choreography, for its insight into the backstage of a restaurant.  Just don’t watch it for its script.

The Kitchen is at the Olivier, National Theatre until Wednesday 9th November 2011.