The Kitchen Sink, Bush Theatre


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The Independent Culture

Martin knew that being a milkman was his vocation when a little old lady started leaving full jars of jam and Branston Pickle out with her empties alongside a note asking him to “Please open”.

 It's “not just about the milk really”, he reflects. But that was twenty-odd years ago and now bits are falling off his float and his trade is being taken over by Tesco. His wife Kath (a superbly frazzled and feisty Lisa Palfrey) is a school dinner lady, affectionately exasperated by his resistance to change and keen to experiment with new fads. For Valentine's Day, she bought him a little jar of chocolate body paint. “We just had it on toast,” she reports stoically.Nor is her children's progress going according to plan. Her daughter Sophie's dreams of becoming a ju-jitsu instructor aren't best helped when she hospitalises a patronising male examiner. And her gay son (a gently camp Ryan Sampson) returns from his first term at a London art school full of quiet, mutinous scorn for his posh fellow-students with their ripped designer jeans (“Life's draughty enough”) and their poncey, overweening projects about council estates and genocide. He's particularly affronted that his heartfelt portrait of Dolly Parton was approvingly construed as an “interrogation of kitsch”.

There's nothing post-modern or pretentious, though, about Tom Wells's lovely new play, premiered now in a beautifully acted in-the-round production by Tamara Harvey that does detailed justice to its warm humour and delight in human quirkiness. The family live in Withernsea, a small Yorkshire coastal town, described as a good place to come from, “cos it's knackered and funny and it's falling in the sea”, but not a good place to end up. The title of the piece is a conscious tease, in that it might lead you to expect a gritty drama about belligerent working-class disaffection. But the family here is confused and anxious rather than bitter or angry and the play is a celebration of its oddities and its ability to confront social change (ranging from the demise of Woolworths to the rise of hummus) by making small, unexpected adjustments.

The eponymous blocked sink is mended by Sophie's painfully shy plumber boyfriend Pete (an adorably gawky Andy Rush) who embraced redundancy from the doomed store as an opportunity “to take [his] love of drains to the next level”. That's the spirit. Before the repair, though, there's a moment of rebellion from Kath that involves a spectacular plumbing eruption. Go, go, go - but wear something waterproof.