''You tell me the point of all this.''
Those words, uttered by a character in The Kitchen, which opened last night in the Black Box Theatre at STU, pretty well summed up what I was thinking as I watched the play.
Written in 1959 by Arnold Wesker, one of the earliest of Britain's ''angry young'' playwrights, it documents a day in the lives of those who work in the kitchen of a large restaurant owned by a chap called Marango.
The cooks are a motley group of individuals who, in the late 1950s, reflected the stratas of British society.
There are a couple of Germans (one belligerent, one easygoing), a excitable Frenchman, a laid-back Italian and an Irish immigrant.
Not only do these culinary artists chop, stir, bake, fry and dish up the food, they also dance, sing, eat, drink, argue, wax philosophical and even indulge in a little clandestine sexual activity.
From the outset it becomes apparent that the person at the centre of this small world is not the jaded chef, who is simply marking time until his retirement, but Peter, a German whose personality is electric to say the least.
He has a penchant for causing trouble while at the same time, he constantly challenges his fellow workers to think about the meaning of life.
The play starts off slowly as the staff members arrive at work and begin getting ready for the rush.
Then the action heats up until, just before the end of Act One, the place is a madhouse with cooks and waitresses working like frantic ants in a colony.
Yet, even as I marvelled at the way in which director Piet Defraeye had staged this incredibly difficult piece of theatre, I wondered what it was leading up to. I never did find out.
I also found it difficult to grasp the meaning of scenes such as the moment in Act Two when one of the cooks, Raymond, picks up a timer, a ladle and a knife sharpener describing them as a ''tomato,'' ''carrot'' and ''cucumber.''
Excuse me -- is there a deep message hidden somewhere in all this? If so, I missed it.
Don't get me wrong, my criticism of The Kitchen is directed at the playwright not Theatre St. Thomas. The production is first class and it features some excellent performances. Jeff Bate Boerop is outstanding as the quixotic Peter. His pent-up anger is so palpable that I shuddered every time he picked up a carving knife. Sean Myles is also impressive in the role of Peter's compatriot, Hans, a much more likeable and pleasant individual. Both these actors handled the German accent admirably.
I liked Jeff Richardson's performance as Kevin, the chap referred to by his fellow cooks as ''the Irishman.'' Kevin's warm, natural style is in sharp contrast to that of the edgy Peter. Darrell Mesheau was good as ''chef'' and Boris Palameta made Marango both menancing and sympathetic.
There is no doubt about it, The Kitchen is a tour de force.
It is a testament to the hard work of everyone involved.
However, the real hero of the piece is set designer Patrick Clark who has recreated, down to the smallest detail, a real restaurant kitchen. I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like it on stage.
There are actual stainless steel ovens and work tables (salvaged from the old cafeteria kitchen at STU) as well as refrigerators, pot racks and many other acoutrements.
And, although we couldn't see any food, we could actually smell cakes baking and onions frying. Amazing.
Because of fiscal restraints, plays like The Kitchen cannot be staged by professional theatre companies -- (they couldn't afford to pay 27 actors).
Therefore we should be particularly grateful to the people at Theatre St. Thomas for making it part of their 1998/99 season.
Russ Hunt's Reviews
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