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
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London