The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings








Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review
The Kitchen

The kitchen means nothing to you and you mean nothing to the kitchen. — Peter
The Kitchen
Cast of The Kitchen (Photo: Marc Brenner)

It is a slice of theatrical history, this 1950s "slice of life" play by Arnold Wesker set in the kitchen of a large restaurant before Gordon Ramsay brought us the kitchens from Hell. What makes the production remarkable is the balletic direction of Bijan Sheibani which has the whole army of chefs working continuously chopping and whisking and frying and waving utensils in the air in unison. It is powerful and hypnotic to watch, elegantly and expertly choreographed with beautiful imagery, as many hands make serious cuisine. Of course those of us who remember British cuisine in the 1950s know that our reputation for terrible food was well deserved and it seems rather a shame that the heights of culinary elegance in this kitchen are the cutlets.

Wesker famously sued the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1972 for not producing The Jounalists a play which they had commissioned from him. The Kitchen is Wesker’s first play and a tribute from the National Theatre to an important British writer as he reaches 80.

The play opens with the first of the workers, Magi (Tendayi Jembere), the night kitchen porter with his heavy Jamaican accent, the only black worker, getting the kitchen ready for the day shift. Some cooks arrive and the waitresses parade through the kitchen in high heels before getting changed into their brown uniforms. It is fascinating to watch this progress of people hurrying about their business although the accurate cigarette smoking in the kitchen shocks us as unhygienic by modern standards.

Occasionally the hubbub will completely pause, the action frozen to classical music until the introductions are made to the new Irish chef Kevin (Rory Keenan) and one chef starts to whisk or chop and slowly another cheffing station joins the action and then another, until once more the whole kitchen has burst into life. The director’s attention to detail means the cooks work continuously at industrial speed wielding dangerous looking knives and pans of hot liquid.

The set is as authentic and as detailed as you could hope for, from the old fashioned ovens to the cream tiles and double swing doors through which the serving staff go to the restaurant. The costumes too are completely in period — chef whites, waitresses in brown uniforms, management in dark suits. The kitchen shelves are piled high with serving dishes and glasses and plates and silver salver food covers. There are gas flames lit on the burners and steam rises from the pans of boiling water. The stage is surrounded by a blackboard with dishes chalked up in smudged writing.

Alongside this kitchen ballet lie Wesker’s characters from many different countries. The Greek Cypriot chef Gaston (Stavros Demetraki) in charge of the grill tells the Englishman, "You will never create moussaka. Chips. Chips with Everything" he says, echoing the title of another of Wesker’s plays. The new arrival Kevin is on fried fish and as luck would have it this is a Friday, the day on which fish is traditionally eaten. AsKevin says,"1500 people and half of them eating fish."

The central character is Peter (Tom Brooke),the imaginative German boiled fish chef who is having an affair with married waitress Monique (Katie Lyons). Peter breaks out of the kitchen routines to pile up dustbins topped with saucepans and finally a broom. He talks about dreams and arches and make-believe rose bushes in the kitchen but the stress will get to him. Paul the pastry chef (Samuel Roukin) is Jewish and talks about politics and is perhaps based on Wesker who worked in kitchens like these as a pastry chef.

These workers are on split shifts. We see them exhausted after the lunch serving, the Irishmen formerly perfectly coiffed Dirk Bogarde style, dishevelled after cooking fried fish for 750 diners, only to know that in a few hours they will have to start again for the supper crowds. As Peter says, "You sweat, the steam comes off your back." There is national rivalry and volatility between the immigrant workers and the performances are convincing. Tom Brooke is very intense as Peter, Rory Keenan industrious as Kevin and Samuel Roukin calm as Paul.

The end of the First Act sees a wonderful synchronised, poetic movement sequence with two waitresses on wires rising aloft the chefs who are arcing with knives and sieves. Wesker says his play was designed to show the dehumanising effect of working under such pressure. The beauty of the direction contrasts with the grim toil in the kitchen but somehow the play seems strangely mundane, saying too little of significance but I wouldn’t have missed Bijan Sheibani’s lyrical episodes for all the tea in China.

Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
The Kitchen
Written by Arnold Wesker
Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Starring: Tom Brooke, Rory Keenan, Samuel Roukin, Katie Lyons
With: Tendayi Jembere, Ian Burfield, Tricia Kelly, Neal Barry, Vincenzo Nicoli, Marek Oravec, Stavros DEmetraki, Luke Norrisd, Craige Els, Gerard Monaco, Paul McCleary, Bruce Myers, Siobhan McSweeney, Hambi Pappas, Sam Swann, Tim Samuels, Colin Haigh, Rebecca Humphries, Sarah Mowat, Rendah Heywood, Rosie Thomson, Ruth Gibson, Stephanie Thomas, Jessica Regan, Rebecca Davies, Sarah Sweeney.
Designed by Giles Cadle
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Music and Sound: Dan Jones
Movement Director: Aline David
Cookery Consultant: Jeremy Lee
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 75452 3000
Booking to 6 November 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on Friday 9th September performance at the Olivier, National Theatre, South Bank London SE1 9PX(Rail/Tube: Waterloo)

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of The Kitchen
  • I disagree with the review of The Kitchen
  • The review made me eager to see The Kitchen
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email . . . also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

©Copyright 2011, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from