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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Kitchen
Olivier Theatre   Autumn-Winter 2011

An almost plotless day-in-the-life of the men and women working in the kitchen of a large restaurant, Arnold Wesker's 1954 play is an opportunity for a director and actors to capture the rhythms, energy and near-chaos of the workplace, almost as an end in itself. 

There is an unforced social comment to the play, in a scene that shows the men's very limited and mundane ambitions and dreams, and in the fact that no one can really answer the boss's challenge that he gives them work and pays them well and what more is there to life. 

But mainly we watch the staff prepare the kitchen in the morning, face the frantic onslaught of constant orders during lunch, relax a bit in the afternoon and then start it all over for the dinner rush. 

There's some good-humoured and occasionally darker joking and teasing, one cook and one waitress have a troubled romance, a new guy is almost overwhelmed by his first day and eventually someone freaks out under the pressure – but these are all more punctuation marks along the way than focal events. 

Director Bijan Sheibani keeps a cast of thirty moving almost constantly and guides almost every one of them (A few of the waitresses aren't around long enough to register) to distinct and individualised characterisations. 

He's a little less successful in creating and sustaining a sense of the controlled near-chaos of the kitchen, having chosen to stylise the most intense moments, leaping suddenly from naturalness to choreographed mime and near-dance, or abruptly freeze-framing the background action to allow the spotlight to fall on one character or interaction. 

I understand the impulse behind those devices, and once or twice they work, but Sheibani overuses them so that they become obtrusive, interrupting rather than enhancing the depiction of the day. 

Tom Brooke plays the alternately intense and joshing natural leader of the group, Rory Keenan is the new guy not sure he'll survive the day, Samuel Roukin the surprisingly philosophical one, and Bruce Myers the not unkindly boss. 

You are likely to come away from this revival with the sense that the play is a limited one, more a technical exercise than a satisfying drama, but that it deserved a better production.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   The Kitchen - National Theatre 2011

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