Wesker is a prolific English writer and The Kitchen one of his first major works, which has since been considered to be one of the most influential English plays of the 20th Century. Like in a good ratatouille Wesker layers simple, complementing ingredients that combine to make a sumptuous dish of surprising depth and lasting flavour.
At first glance The Kitchen provides an insight into the day to day politics involved in running a commercial kitchen for a swish restaurant. There’s a rigid pecking order and if you don’t know your place... you soon will. The ebbs and flows of the kitchen, during and outside of service, are captured perfectly not only by the large cast’s performances but through clever utilisation of William Bobby Stewart’s intricate set design.
Throughout the play there’s usually a minimum of five performers on stage, sometimes almost the entire cast of twenty six are going about their work in the kitchen, but it never felt like there was too much going on nor did I notice any upstaging. At points the repartee jumps from one side of the stage to the other, sometimes several narratives are going on at stage at once, but at no point was I left feeling confused or lost. Tony Knight (director) has realised Wesker’s script quite wonderfully in that throughout the play it’s almost as though you’re watching a symphony where the musical instruments are replaced with actors, each finely tuned and chiming in with perfect timing. I must also compliment the entire cast, each cast member always had a purpose even if that was just to complement the main action happening elsewhere on stage and create the feel of a busy kitchen.
In addition to the story of the kitchen and its inhabitants is Wesker’s examination of the capitalistic machine. Each worker has their role, like it or not, to fulfil to keep the kitchen running. Most of them don’t like it, but feel they have no other choice but to work; work to earn, earn to pay and pay to exist. This juxtaposed against the racial crucible that the kitchen, populated with workers from all over the globe, has become. Tensions run high throughout the kitchen staff as racial, social and personal issues reach boiling point. Wesker leaves the play open ended and many questions unanswered; showing rather than telling and leaving it up to each audience member to ponder on who is right or wrong, who is the hero and who is the victim.
The Kitchen is a challenging text to stage. It demands lots of actors on stage at once and unless the cast is tight there’s plenty of pitfalls for poorly trained actors. But the team behind NIDA’s production of The Kitchen are definitely up to the test. Every aspect of the production exceeded expectations and given that this is the Australian premier of Wesker’s The Kitchen it’s definitely worth a look.
by Arnold Wesker
Venue: Parade Theatre | 215 Anzac Parade, Kensington
Season: 25 – 30 September
Times: Thursday 25, Friday 26, Saturday 27, Monday 29 &Tuesday 30 September at 7.30pm
Prices: Adults $25; Concession $15
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au or phone 1300 795 012