Pros: A tight ensemble piece showing the chaotic conditions of a 1950s kitchen with some very impressive choreography.
Cons: When the action slows down, the play almost comes to a halt.
Fourth Monkey Theatre Company’s production of Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen is a frantic ensemble piece that throws the audience into the melee of a 1950s restaurant kitchen. The huge cast of 24 are all graduating students of the company’s Two Year Rep training programme and their youth makes this a production of real vitality.
The kitchen is a world of its own and the day we spend in it as varied as an entire lifetime. Different languages and personalities blend, grate, and rub off one another. Sometimes this mixture creates a crackling camaraderie, and sometimes it flares up into open hostility and callous racism. In the highly pressurised environment of the busy kitchen, we see people on the edge of their wits. As a result every emotion is intensified. There is love, laughter, anger and fury, all accentuated to their highest limits of expression by the intensity of the workplace. The range of accents from the actors may stumble and wander at times, but the different types of characters are well-delivered. Scott McGarrick and Alice Trow buzz as Peter the German chef and his married mistress Monique, while Danny Brown is extremely likeable as the hapless Hans.
Controlling this kind of madness is no easy thing, and dırector Mitch Mitchelson (what a name!) generally holds the reigns pretty tight. The ensemble is easily at its most impressive when the kitchen is in fully organised chaos. The back and forth screaming of instructions and orders is so well-timed that it feels natural. However, when the kitchen’s activities come to a rest the action has a tendency to really drag, and the energy drops a lot. I also question the framing device thrown around the play – it felt wholly unnecessary and a bit confusing.
Pablo Fernandez Baz’s simple lighting works fine for the majority of the play. The washes are pleasant and the spotlights, when they come, are sharp. However, in some of the movement sequences, the flourishes do not come off against the warm washes of the kitchen, and are just distracting.
Interestingly, not a single item of food ever passes before our eyes. All the chopping, slicing and frying is completely mimed – and quite convincingly so. Lucy Read’s shiny chrome set and the lack of a stain in sight combine to make the kitchen more IKEA catalogue than bustling restaurant. However, there is a very nice symmetry to the structure of the kitchen that captures well the sense of clockwork mechanism about the place.
While the converted church performance space in Jackson’s Lane is very comfortable and impressive (albeit a bit stuffy), it is also cavernous. Against the clatter of pots and pans lines get sucked up into the rafters – not a criticism of the actors, just a difficulty of the space.
The great strength in the ensemble is what holds the production together. The rhythms and steps of Angela Gasparetto’s brilliant movement direction are immensely well-drilled and executed to perfection. However, there is also a wonderful sense that despite their squabbles and rows, the kitchen staff share their troubles together as a community. The cast conveys this humanity lovingly. When one cog in the fragile mechanism stops playing its role, the whole system comes crashing down. You get the feeling that rule probably applies to the cast as well as the characters that they play.
Overall, The Kıtchen presents some excellent sequences, and the production as a whole manages to make some touching statements about humanity amidst the din and the chaos. Food for thought (sorry…).
Author: Arnold Wesker
Director: Mitch Michelson
Producer: Fourth Monkey Theatre Company
Booking Until: 7th June (One part of a triple bill)
Box Office: 020 8341 4421
Booking Link: http://www.jacksonslane.org.uk/book-tickets/