#96 The Kitchen at the National Theatre
Back to the NT for another virtuoso show: The Kitchen is a 1957 play by the British playwright Arnold Wesker, showcasing life in a contemporary restaurant kitchen.
With over thirty actors, each playing a specialised food preparation role, and each with their own hopes, desires and disappointments, this is an ensemble piece which becomes a kind of Rube Goldberg contraption of endless meal production. Everything’s real in this elaborate set, except the food, which is wisely mimed into existence – and this team look like they could turn out a good spread, judging by their expertise with the invisible grub. Sometimes, in fact, the action turns into a kind of dreamlike dance, in which the action becomes hypnotically rhythmic – only for a character to break the spell with a complaint or another order for cutlets (The programme cutely lists the entire restaurant menu.)
So what’s it all about? The story whirls around a young couple who are trying to negotiate their way through to still waters of happiness past spouses, tempers, misunderstandings, broken dreams, and the demands of a 16-hour working day. But since there are so many characters to keep track of – and the movement (if not the action) never stops, it takes a while for the frenetic production to let the story shine through. The drama’s stronger in the second half, when we get to focus on a handful of players in the downtime between shifts. It doesn’t help that the final moments seem like the end of a second act, with a whole missing chunk of post-climactic resolution that left us wondering about what happened next.
A cordon bleu-level display of theatrical prowess, then, but all in the service of a slightly underdone story.