Great chefs are theatre to their fingertips – witness Nigella’s practically burlesque baking. But is there dramatic flair in the austere backstage graft of a 1950s London restaurant?
Arnold Wesker’s doleful and authentic portion of working-class life is impressively spiced up by director Bijan Sheibani and his movement director Aline David. As the waiters and waitresses of The Tivoli plate up for the rush hour, they fill the Olivier with a ballet of stress and stainless steel.
There are times in Wesker’s overcrowded first half when you wish that Gordon Ramsay would barge in and impose a face and a focus to the white-shirted blokes. But Wesker’s socialist dramas are the opposite of celebrity culture; they paint an underclass and its milieu through choppy, accurate brush strokes of dialogue.
One of the National’s great strengths is its ensemble work; another is the scope for design and ‘The Kitchen’ makes great use of both. Giles Cadle’s set, with its roaring gas burners and beautifully choreographed panic, is superb.
Wesker doesn’t give the waitresses very much to do – they collect the odd chop, and routinely crush the men’s dreams. But the male cast presents an intriguing melting pot of ’50s East End multiculturalism: Germans alongside Jews, Italians, Irishmen, Greeks and cockneys.
The first half is helter skelter but the second opens with the kind of exhausted, exhilarated lull that will be recognisable to anyone who has ever worked like a maniac for several hours in mixed company. Wesker inserted it in a late draft of the play and it’s the interlude that lifts the play into a more highly crafted expression of the rhythm of working life.
Peter, a German fish chef, emerges as a sidelong sort of hero: Tom Brooke brings a famished, Pinocchio-like yearning to the role of a man whose generous instincts are turning as sour as the soup. As ‘The Kitchen’ ratchets up to its climax, Peter protests to the proprietor, who asks him what else he wants from life apart from work, food and money. Half a century later it’s a question that still hangs, unanswerable for some, unaskable for others.
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Great staging and choreography and a good performance by Tom Brooke, but what a weak play, especially the ending.
If you are at all interested in 1950's, Cultural History, Cooking,Multi Culturalism or Arnold Wesker, then please go and see this play. This is a superb ensemble production with a brilliant performance from Tom Brooke. The set and the direction were up to the very highest standards of the National Theatre. I got a bargain last minute seat at the first row of the stalls (just £12) and had a magical experience even though at couldn't see the very back of the set. Go and see this performance, you will not be disappointed!
I had fun with this play. I particularly liked some of their more 'off the wall' techniques, such as synchronised movement, waitresses coming out of the ceiling and characters freezing until spoken to! The set was wonderfully detailed and the themes were engaging. Worth a watch.
Fantastic prodruction. It was funny, heartwarming, moving and a great set! Its a must see and for all you Arnold Wesker fans out there another masterpiece. Sat up in the Circle for this play- best views as you get to see all the characters and the board above which is used for the writing down of the orders ..you'll know what i mean when you see the play. Well done to Tom Brooke what a great accent.. he was funny! and also Bertha.. great character.. I laughed and laughed. a very enjoyable evening.
What a disappointing play. I can't help but use the phrase too many cooks spoil the broth. 30 cast members is the obvious way of communicating the frenetic kitchen environment but has the effect of watering everything down into something that is completely unforgettable. Spreading the dialogue across so many different characters doesn't allow any to develop meaningfully and I came away with a sour taste in my mouth. The National is a lovely theatre but the setting was too big for this play. It would have benefitted being in a smaller venue, halving the cast numbers and sharpening the dialogue and creating something with substance.