The Kitchen: A flurry of mess and emotion

A play by Arnold Wesker, directed by Michael Hackett.

The audience sits on either lengths of the stage, facing each other like spectators at a tennis match. In the centre is the view of a kitchen, complete with a long table top, four swinging doors, and pots, pans and utensils hanging neatly from the shelves. It is unusually clean and quiet, with the sense that at any moment, the kitchen will come alive with a flurry of mess and emotion. And it does.

The show opens with one actor plodding across the stage. Soon, a cast of thirty others join him as chefs and waitresses manoeuvring around the bustling workspace. In the disorder of the kitchen, not a single item of food is seen. Instead, the actors mime cracking an egg and peeling a lemon with such precision that we too can see the imaginary item in their hands. When Michael Bauer’s character Gaston enters the stage with a scowl on his face and a bruised eye that is various shades of purple, he appears ragged and beaten. Yet, he wipes a sharp knife on the tea towel hanging from his shoulder with the elegance of a peacock spreading its feathers.

Set in the aftermath of the Second World War, the kitchen and its workers symbolise the changing demographic of England during in the 1950s. The play explores racial issues that remain highly relevant in today’s society, including that of being forced to speak English instead of your native language in a Western country. The diversity of the cast reflects this environment, as we see characters and hear accents from around the world.

The most admirable part of the performance is its staging, which creates chaos in an organised and stylised way, where every actor moves with great intention. Even in the interval, characters continue to sweep the floor and clean their stations, adding a nice touch to the image of a place that never sleeps. The show uses space and timing particularly effectively, making the audience’s blood pressure rise as we witness the kitchen’s authentic intensity.

In the climax, choreographed movement takes over the stage, with actors stomping and circling the central table. This is accompanied by a beating soundscape produced using crockery and utensils as instruments, culminating in destruction and items being smashed on the floor.

The Kitchen is a microcosm of not only the London of the past, but of society today, in which race, class and status continue to both divide and unite. The show’s high energy and entertainment leaves the audience thinking about their own dreams that surface from pandemonium.

Anna Louey

University of California Los Angeles’ production of The Kitchen ran from 1 – 8 March at Freud Playhouse.