The sweet and earnestly acted production of Tom Wells’
There’s a real craft to pulling off simple, idiomatic little plays like this.
Mom Kath (Helena Dudley) wants flighty gay son Billy (Oliver McLellan) to find himself at London art school, if only he can get accepted with his glitter-strewn paintings of Dolly Parton. Dad Martin (David Nation) doesn’t see art school as much of a career starter, but he’s in his own slump, needing to dump his knackered milk float and find a new job.
Daughter Sophie (Flora Ashton, wearing a perma-scowl) has jiu-jitsu skills, but her anger management needs tweaking. And Sophie’s almost-not-quite boyfriend Pete (a lanky and lovable Simon Marshall) longs to connect with her but might have to settle for being assigned to the friend zone.
Directed by Alice Fitzgerald (assisted by Alice Wordsworth) with a flair for zippy transitions between the play’s 12 brief scenes – the cast whistles Parton’s Nine to Five as they make the changes on a simple set made of stacked crates – the amateur actors of the Exeter University Theatre Company show some sharp comic timing (particularly Nation and Marshall). They shade the heavy emotions without tilting toward melodrama and they connect easily with each other on the small stage.
At times, they’re almost too restrained, speaking in such conversational tones, they are sometimes hard to hear (even from the fourth row). They also use thick Hull accents, which are a little difficult to decipher a times, but the ear adjusts and in the intimate Theatre 1, not much gets lost.
Wells’ series of vignettes jumps ahead in time as the family and Pete experience life changes both achieved and endured. A death marks a turning point for two of the characters. And father and son bond when they each realize the other feels guilty for not fulfilling a dream.
The playwright has a fine talent for the funny-sounding word to work into a laugh. “Couscous?” asks Martin, staring blankly at his dinner plate. “It looks like dust.”
Later, Martin, so forgetful that he leaves his phone at home and puts the TV remote in his pocket, muses that “Time does something to a milkman” and “There’s a real craft to failure.”
There’s a real craft to pulling off simple, idiomatic little plays like this, too. And the kids from Exeter have plumbed Kitchen Sink to just the right depth of believability in playing a loving family trying to keep their lives from circling the drain.