The Kitchen Sink, at Ensemble Theatre
Two plays in the space of two weeks.
This is me getting back to what I once loved doing on a regular basis, and how I began my career in writing and journalism; reviewing books, plays and shows.
This week I went along with my mother-in-law to see The Kitchen Sink, by the award-winning 31-year-old British playwright Tom Wells.
Wells is well known in theatre circles (and certainly outside of them as well) for his play Jumpers for Goalposts — a comedy about a soccer team called Barely Athletic aiming for the bottom spot in their LGBTI league in Hull, Yorkshire. Even the brief description makes you smile.
Tom’s writing often centres upon family, friends and suburban people who might seem quite ordinary on paper, but dare to be a voyeur, and supposedly ordinary lives are rich with idiosyncrasies that you can’t even imagine if they aren't ones you’re familiar with, and you’re not a part of the group in which they regularly flare up. But that’s the great thing about theatre — just by being in those seats surrounding a set, makes you a part of things.
In The Kitchen Sink, which won the 2012 George Devine Award, Tom has the audience stepping into the home of a dysfunctional yet loving, caring family who are all struggling with their hang-ups, leaning upon one another to get through tough times. And as often is the case in family dramas, the action takes place in the heart of the home — the kitchen.
You’ve got Martin, the dad, who has worked on a milk round for as long as he can remember. He's struggling to accept that he has to change not just his routine, but his entire life to keep up with the times, as who needs milk delivered to their door these days? Then there’s mum, Kath, who, like most mums, holds everyone and everything together, but she must also face change, with her son Billy leaving home to pursue his dream of being an artist, and her daughter Sophie bogged down by depression. Sophie — an emotional basket case who is her own worst enemy when it comes to pursuing her dream of a career in martial arts, can't see past her own problems, and so the man doting on her with hopes of acquiring boyfriend status is practically invisible. He spends most of his time under the kitchen sink trying to sort out the plumbing, which right from the beginning seems to be a metaphor for everything in the family unit that needs fixing.
Some people love change (and I am one of those people) but more often than not, people are creatures of habit, and this play shows the fear that people face, trauma even, when it comes to accepting the world around them and the changes that every day brings with it. Well's play is also about family and the support that people, despite being so utterly different and caught up in their own bubbles, offer loved ones in times of need. And that’s a common theme for Wells — his writing is often about humans needing a sense of belonging in order for their lives to work.
When asked about the inspiration behind this recurring theme in an interview with online magazine, Hull 2017, he commented: “I think maybe a sense of belonging to something – even if it is just a crap 5-a-side football team or a nun’s underwhelming folk band – means a lot to the sort of characters I like to write about. That’s why I like theatre really, hopefully there’s room for everyone.”
One thing is for sure, there’s always room for everyone around the bar after a play at Ensemble. Here, people gather above a lovely pocket of Sydney Harbour, enjoying a beverage while discussing theatre, and the many windows that it opens, so that one can look into yet another intricate facet of human behaviour.