The Kitchen – National Theatre – Review

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Ok, who ordered the turbot?

The Nationals Olivier stage has been superbly changed to a large working kitchen for this production, complete with gas rings, cookers, pots, pans, knives and lots of plates. I saw this play in a student production and it worked well in their tiny theatre and I wondered how it would make the leap to the cavernous Olivier Theatre. By maximizing the scale of the space Giles Cadle’s set has successfully filled this space and still allowed for a feel of claustrophobia for the characters trapped in this place.

Bijan Sheibani’s direction is very impressive, there are whole scenes where the actors are literally choreographed as they prepare the food, and go about their tasks. These were a particular highlight. I also liked the way that Bijan Sheibani, chose to emphasise parts of dialogue by having the other characters in the kitchen freeze, or go into slow motion. The mime the cast do to as they work is so deceptive on occasions I was certain they really were chopping, slicing marinating and whisking real ingredients. The clever use of special effects, of smoke, flame and sound really added to this.

The cast give very good performances, on occasions it was hard to hear a couple of them over the noise of the kitchen, but most of them projected clearly. For me the play is about the character Peter, played with great skill by Tom Brooke. It’s his story we follow and whilst the other characters have their dreams, stories and roles to fulfil, Peters are left unfulfilled.

I found it quite a moving play and you leave the theatre with much to think about or at least I did. Are we all just going through the motions? As Peter says, “The world chases money, so we chase money too”. How do we make our dreams reality? Can we ever really do that? Or are we all destined to work in our own “Kitchens”?

I was surprised that this play from 1957 still had much to say to us in the 21st century. The issues of race and multiculturalism, while a challenge when this play came out, are still very much issues we are grappling with. Wesker also confronts us with question of an existential nature and also gets us to question the validity of our economic system.

It’s not without humour though, which surfaces at just the right times to provide a moments reprise from the pressure of the work and their situations. Rory Keenan as the new chef Kevin or “Irishman” as they all call him, was a particularly memorable performance as he provides the fresh set of eyes needed in this jaded environment.

I worked in a hotel kitchen when I was student, and the characters and pressure of the environment recreated last night were every bit as real as the one I worked in. I’m certainly glad I don’t work there anymore.

I was hoping to catch this play soon after it opened, but had to re-arrange my ticket due to other commitments, it’s only on for another 2 weeks. If you fancy seeing a creatively staged play that is enjoyable, but will give you no easy answers and perhaps more questions, catch this while it’s still on.

STARS:  * * * *