I was very intrigued to get an invite to a ‘pop up’ fringe theatre. Everything seems to be ‘popping up’ these days, from clothes shops to cocktail bars and each tends to have a frisson of excitement and an air of ingenuity around it. So it was with some enthusiasm that I made my way to The White Lion Pub, a short walk from Barbican Tube, where Crex Theatre company are ‘popping up’ Tom Wells’s play ‘The Kitchen Sink’.
The play is set in the Yorkshire seaside town of Withernsea and highlights a year in one families life, as their worlds outside the safety of their own four walls crumbles. Mother Kath (Olivia Race) is the glue that holds the family together, Dad Martin, (Jo Allan) is desperately -and literally- trying to keep his milk float together, son Billy (Sam McKay) has just won a place to Art school in London but doesn’t really want to go, daughter Sophie (Emilie Aspeling) fails to get her black belt after punching her examiner in the face and hapless plumber Pete (Rob Collins) moons after the ‘don’t call her feisty’ Sophie to no avail.
The actors are all current students, or recent graduates of Durham University and although the acting was adequate it often lacked the depth of feeling that Wells’ cracking writing requires. McKay’s Billy was earnest and endearing but far too understated, Race’s Kath and Allan’s Martin were competent and both had some touching moments, but both were far too young for the role.
The setting was the kitchen of the house and designer Sarah Booth, had utilised two existing doors to act as the front door and the door to the main part of the house (I especially enjoyed the use of the pubs central staircase offstage, it added a lovely touch of realism to the production.) However, she had chosen to place the kitchen units across the back wall. Whilst realistic, it did not serve the drama, as much of the dialogue was delivered upstage. This took a fair amount of the subtle reactions and facial gestures, suggested within the text away from the audience. In fact director Dominic Williams seemed to have directed much of the action to be delivered upstage, as such, a fair amount of communication was lost. A particularly pivotal scene, set at the kitchen table where mum Kath delivers an impassioned speech to son Billy was hidden from 80% of the audience. Simply swapping the two characters places would resolve this. There is also the unfortunate placement of a pillar on stage and as such it’s avoidance should be considered in the blocking, at times it was not, and during one scene an actor stood directly behind it the whole time.
The transitions between scenes were far too long, sometimes the actors paused at the end of the transition before beginning the scene, sometimes they did not. They were also at times filled with unnecessary action. For one, Kath takes a tray of burnt cakes out of a cupboard and puts them in the oven, why they could not have simply been in there from the start? Music was composed by Jonathan Packham for these transition sections, they were well constructed pieces of music and added to the atmosphere, but, at times, it just felt as if the cast were waiting for it to finish so they could begin.
Pauses both before and within scenes were far too lengthy and often times not filled with meaning, as if the actors were just obeying the ellipsis within the text rather than continuing the train of thought and emphasising the subtext.
The programme doesn’t give much information away on the play, the playwright or the origins and development of the theatre company itself, this would would have made some interesting reading. On the back page of the programme it states that it is an ‘amature’ (sic) production. Crex Theatre Company did however show glimmers of promise and no one can fail to be amused by the sparkling wit of Tom Wells’s dialogue.
Reviewed by Byron Butler