Household words

FRINGE ROUND-UP: Kitchensink; Tricycle, Kilburn. The Seal Wife: Warehouse, Croydon.

When the definitive social history of 20th-century Britain is written, you can bet your mortgage there'll be a chapter on the semi-detached house: not just a place where people lived, but a symbol of social aspiration, post-war regeneration and (often as not) failed dreams. Perhaps there'll even be a footnote about the role of the semi in the arts: from the films of Mike Leigh to Brookside via Terry and June. Paul Mercier's new play Kitchensink (performed by the acclaimed Dublin company Passion Machine) suggests that, in the Irish Republic too, the semi has a symbolic significance that belies its ordinariness, offering generations of young people from the Fifties onwards an escape from the "suffocating gentility" of their parents. As one character about to buy into a brave new world of all-mod- cons exclaims: "Farewell, Victoriana."

Kitchensink begins in the early Sixties with Daniel, a small boy playing soldiers beside an unfinished semi. He's wearing a mask which gives him a dumb expression, but, when he enters the building, he removes it. A little girl, Helen, comes in after him. She, too, takes off her mask. So does everyone else who visits the semi, as if the house were giving them freedom to be themselves.

The tone of the play is set when the children decide to take a trip to the nearby Devil Forest. Like so many other dreams in Kitchensink, the trip never happens. The play proceeds in a series of short scenes, Polaroid snapshots of Helen's life for the most part. The first semi is replaced by others, but each one yields a new disappointment. By the end, predictably, the Devil Forest has become Monument Down, and the monument is itself a folly "like everything today". Helen's husband teeters on the brink of alcoholism, and her Barbie-doll daughter is manipulative and spoilt.

There is something insufferably reactionary about all this: a vision of society where progress is only ever for the worse. Everyone is going to hell, and there are no return tickets. Even the children in the first scene are poisoned by a precocious nostalgia, lamenting the arrival of the first estate to blot the landscape. The result is like watching one of Philip Larkin's most curmudgeonly anti-modern poems adapted for the stage, but with neither Larkin's redemptive romanticism nor, sadly, his brevity.

An exceptional stillness hangs over Sue Glover's The Seal Wife (at the Warehouse). It's the natural quiet of a Scottish beach, which makes it hard to believe that Croydon, with its Sixties office blocks and low-flying jets, is just outside. Hard to believe, too, that Glover's play, written for Edinburgh's Little Lyceum in 1981, hasn't made it south of the border before now, even if it's not quite the finished article that her 1991 play Bondagers was.

At The Seal Wife's heart is the myth of the "silkies", seal-people who shed their skins and take on human shape. Alec (Mark Bonnar) is a loner who wanders the seashore with his shotgun, hunting seals. Rona (Lorna McDevitt) is a mysterious girl who emerges naked from the sea one spring night. Alec carries her home in his arms, to tend a powder burn on her ankle, and soon she is pregnant.

Both play and production boast a low-key naturalism, which rubs up neatly against the more opaque, symbolic aspects of the tale. No one ever mentions the silkie myth: Rona might be a runaway from a travelling fair, her burn easily explained away as an accident. Wisely, too, McDevitt doesn't strain to give Rona any preternatural aura. The myth of the hunter and the hunted, the free and the constrained, is allowed to work its magic unadorned, and - despite an ending that fizzles when it should ignite, following Rona's disappearance - it does so very well.

`Kitchensink' is at the Tricycle, Kilburn High Rd, London NW6 (0171-328 1000) to 1 March. `The Seal Wife' is at the Warehouse, Croydon (0181-680 4060) to 16 Feb

Adrian Turpin

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments