In this gentle comedy set entirely in a Yorkshire kitchen, life isn’t quite going as planned. No one wants any milk from Martin’s milk float and his daughter Sophie, almost a black belt in jujitsu, falls apart when her instructor calls her feisty. Gay son Billy is off to art school in London but becomes outraged when his tutors declare his Dolly Parton portraits to be kitsch. It is up to his mother Kath to stop their crappy kitchen sink and all it represents from giving up for good.
The details are beautifully observed and writer Tom Wells has a knack for condensing complex emotions into a throwaway line. The humour is sly and there is a spontaneity to the performances that makes them gripping. The new Bush Theatre space has been reconfigured in-the-round. This allows the eponymous sink to take centre stage but also creates a intimate audience atmosphere.
Accompanied by perky jingles during the set changes, Tamara Harvey’s production can feel quite televisual at times. Happily, the initial sense of comic whimsy proves to be deceptive. Although the use of punch-line endings creates a sitcom feel that can undercut the potential tension, the humour never becomes a cover for lazy stereotyping. Beneath the surface wit the play skewers a major contradiction of modern life; what do we do with gender and class disparities in a world that claims they no longer exist?
The naturalistic set has the accuracy of autobiography and Harvey’s direction has an appealing precision. The characters pad around in socks, clearly in their own home but no one is quite sure what to do with their bodies. They all seem uneasy within themselves. The characters clearly desperately need, yet impatiently ignore, one another in a way that is subtle and artful. Despite her slouching, Sophie’s (Leah Brotherhead) body is brimming with a power she has yet to harness and Billy (Ryan Samson) alternates flamboyance with a crippling self consciousness. Pete (Andy Rush) the plumber, unable to finish a single sentence, resorts to expressing his feelings via the unblocking of drains, while Lisa Palfry excels as the inventive but unsophisticated Kath; by performing a celebratory rendition of Dolly’s ‘Tennessee Homesick Blues’ with her son, she sings them all towards an uncertain future.
When Billy worries that the people he is to meet at college will “all be from proper, you know, good places. Like Kent.” this reminds us that the world depicted here is one that rarely reaches the stage. Where the ‘kitchen sink’ drama’s of the late 50’s wanted to depict the ordinary at its most shocking and sexual, Wells’ reality remains quietly understated. The symbolism of the sink is nearly overplayed but ultimately the rigour of the writing and performances allow it to create a satisfying and moving climax. Wells is not an angry young man but in his quiet refusal to sensationalise, he has created a slice of life that is refreshingly real.