Last Thursday I went to Bob Carlton’s funeral. You’ve probably never heard of Bob but you will have heard of his masterpiece Return To The Forbidden Planet, and if you’ve seen any of the rock and roll pantos at Liverpool Everyman or Theatr Clwyd, he invented them. A working class lad from Coventry, Bob was a great champion of theatre for ordinary people. I hope we see his like again. His funeral at the Actors’ Church in Covent Garden was packed, and the eulogy by his colleague Matt Devitt was so funny it brought the house down.
I mention Bob because on Friday I went to Oldham to see The Kitchen Sink, which also brought the house down. Go and see it, it’s hilarious. It was the first play by Hull-based writer Tom Wells, and for a first play it’s extremely accomplished. It has been produced a couple of times so various directors and actors have no doubt helped to refine it. Even so, it’s a very good piece of work. It reminded me of nothing quite so much as the plays Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale used to write for Liverpool Everyman back in the 70s – local domestic comedy with a political edge.
Kath, a magnificently dotty Sue Devaney, is married to milkman Bob, a suitably stolid, emotionally impenetrable David Judge, and they have two children; Billy, a clearly gay would-be art student played by Sam Glen, and Sophie, a ju-jitsu brown belt determinedly aiming for black played by Emily Stott. Kath has endless problems with her eponymous sink which is a great excuse for plumber Martin, played by William Travis, to torture himself with his unrequited love for Sophie.
When was the last time you saw a milkman? Exactly. That’s one of the threads that runs through the play, exploring the hopes and dreams of the characters in their pursuit of happiness. The acting – and the direction by Chris Lawson – is remarkably good. It’s a pleasure to watch how beautifully defined each of the characters is, and how they each have their own rhythm. One of the problems of acting in a small ensemble is that it’s easy to pick up another character’s rhythm and everything ends up chugging along at the same pace. This doesn’t happen in real life, and it doesn’t happen here.
It’s not a coincidence that two of this excellent cast – Glen and Stott – are alumni of Oldham Theatre Workshop, a remarkable youth theatre based just round the corner from the Coliseum that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Anna Friel, Suranne Jones, Jane Danson and Clive Rowe are just a few of the names that have come out of OTW and have gone on to illustrious careers. On this showing, Glen and Stott might well do the same.
It’s a sign of the times that Billy’s gayness is not remarked upon at all. I don’t recall a single overtly gay character in any of those 70s plays, things appear to have moved on. Huzzah!
I’m not going to describe the plot suffice it to say it’s about ordinary people with ordinary lives, and the audience liked it so much they gave it a standing ovation. Quite right too. It’s a great piece of popular art. Bob Carlton would have loved it.
The Kitchen Sink is showing at Oldham Coliseum until February 24, 2018. For information or to book tickets, visit the website.