The Kitchen

by Arnold Wesker

Directed by Keith Hill

January 25th - February 1st, 2003

The Tower Theatre performing at the Tower Theatre, Canonbury


Cast List

Magi (night porter) : Chris Yates
Max (butcher) : Colin Dent
Paul (pastry chef) : Steven Hyndman
Raymond (assistant pastry chef) : John Stivey
Kevin (fried fish) : Alexander Gordon Wood
Dimitri (kitchen porter) : Karan Bhagat
Anne (desserts and coffee) : Helen McCormack
Hans (fry) : Martin South
Alfredo (roast) : Ian Chaplain
Head Waiter : John Morton
Michael (eggs) : Chris Peregrine
Bertha (vegetables) : Sharona Key-Barry
Gaston (grill) : Allan Hart
Nicholas (cold buffet) : James Folan
Peter (boiled fish) : Barry Heselden
Frank, 2nd chef (poultry) : Tom Rainbird
Head Chef : Nigel Martin
Marango (proprietor) : David Sellar
The Tramp : Brian Harris


Monique : Rachel Reeder
Violet : Emmeline Winterbotham
Winnie : Vanessa Westing
Betty : Jeanette Clarke
Daphne : Linky Trott
Cynthia : Meryl Griffiths
Gwen : Sheila Burbidge
Jackie : Amy Scarth


Production Team

Director : Keith Hill
Assistant Director : Nigel Martin
Set Design : Patricia Douglas
Lighting Design : Hilary Allen
Costume Design : Nigel Martin

Stage Manager : Martin Brady
ASMs : Teresa Brennan, Jonathan Mantle, Jean Carr, Terry Baker-Self, Moira McSperrin
Lighting operator : Simon Parks
Sound operator : Nathalie Lake
Wardrobe : Nigel Martin, Kay Perversi and members of the cast
Set construction : Keith Syrett, Jude Chalk, John Feather, Andy Peregrine, Jim Harlow

In-house review by Marion Cotter

Marion Cotter is a publisher and writer, and has recently published Room for Romance, a 120-page guide to Britain's most romantic hotels (Freeway Media, £10.95)

Hands up those of you who watched London super-chef Gordon Ramsay at work recently in that fly-on-the-wall TV series. Okay, so we all know that hectic restaurant kitchens are places where red faces, blue language, tantrums and tears are all par for the course. The kitchen depicted in Arnold Wesker's play of the same name may not be in the Michelin star league - it's the grimy engine room of a rather dated and distinctly second rate establishment - but the chemistry is much the same. Throw together a motley bunch of characters in the heat and steam of a busy commercial kitchen, and things quickly reach boiling point. It's soon abundantly clear that tempers flare and emotions unravel over a hot stove - making the kitchen a positive bouillabaisse of jealousy, jostling egos, tensions and xenophobia.

All of life is played out here among a feast of characters, as Wesker serves up a slice of life - based on his own days as a chef - in the fullest sense. Tempers simmer and tensions bubble in the relentless heat of this '60s culinary treadmill whose endless demands seem to subsume the very characters who people it. Dreams and despair, remorse and anger are the ingredients sizzling away here in equal measure.

Keith Hill's production turned out to be cracking entertainment that more than did justice to Wesker's pithy portrait of a day in the life of the kitchen and the brigade who run it. Laughs came quick and fast, pathos was beautifully timed and the change of pace vital at key points was deftly handled. This play would have quickly foundered in less assured hands. With a cast of no less than 27 - leaving the Tower stage at times bristling with characters - you have to take your hat off to Keith and assistant director Nigel Martin for staging Wesker's play in the first place. It's an ambitious piece that demands good casting, great co-ordination, precision timing and huge self-confidence on the part of the director. Some serious work perfecting accents ranging from Irish brogue to German and Greek was called for, while the script demanded exits and entrances drilled to perfection.

A non-stop stream of restaurant orders brought things to a crescendo at the end of the first act, a spell deftly broken with the sotto voce opening of the second act, when the kitchen almost looked like a spent battlefield. Some poignant moments were highlighted when the action suddenly froze, leaving the crowded stage in suspended animation. Wesker's script calls for not simply sharp comic timing, but a line-up of multi-national cameo parts ranging from a dour Irishman to a highly-strung German. The action is interleaved with close-ups on a number of characters, who are spotlit for a star turn as Wesker lifts the lid on their hopes and fears.

Interestingly - and bravely, perhaps - not a single piece of food appeared on stage during the play. The cast ate from empty plates, chopped imaginary ingredients and served up steaming bowlfuls of fresh air. While there's no space here to mention every player, Barry Heselden deserves applause as the German chef Peter. This was without doubt the play's most demanding part, requiring not just well honed German vowels but consummate acting skills. His shattering breakdown, when he runs amok and brings things to a standstill - the dramatic pivot of the second act - was vividly and painfully portrayed. This was a bravura and utterly credible performance.

Colin Dent looked pretty lethal with a meat cleaver as the bad-tempered butcher Max, an abrasive cockney who looks likely to fly off the handle at any second and who spends most of the time filleting and trimming imaginary hunks of meat at the front of the stage - no mean feat. Alexander Gordon-Wood played Kevin, the laconic Irishman who provides a counterpoint to the ebullience of Peter. Other well played parts included those of Raymond (John Stivey), Michael (Chris Peregrine), Hans (Martin South), Cynthia (Meryl Griffiths) and Peter's lover Monique (Rachel Reeder). David Sellar played the proprietor Marango, an old-time pro who smoothes in and out of the chaos and fails to see that there's anything more to life than knocking up meals around the clock and getting paid. "Is there more?" he thunders incredulously as Peter, whose dreams of love have been blown apart, sees his life broken in pieces.

Congratulations to Patricia Douglas on an excellent set with good attention to detail. The kitchen's walls looked as if they were streaked with years of grease and grime, while the pock-marked floor told of a stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap place that had seen better days. Lighting design was by Hilary Allen, with costumes - all perfectly in tune with the '60s setting - handled by Nigel Martin.

Wesker apparently based this play on his experiences as a young dog in the hotel kitchens of Paris. If The Kitchen is anything to go by, no wonder he never looked back.