The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Kitchen spans a day’s work at a large London restaurant. At the beginning of part 1, the stage is in semidarkness (there are no curtains). It gradually comes into full light as Magi, the night porter, lights five ovens in succession. As each oven is lit, it emits a hum; the effect of all five ovens is a roar, which continues at varying levels throughout the play.

Members of the day staff, of many nationalities, enter in ones and twos, exchange greetings, and take up their allotted stations to start preparing food. Waitresses move in and out on their way to the dining room at the back, with trays of glasses or piles of plates.

The bantering repartee ranges over various personal issues, but the main topic is a fight that occurred between two of the cooks—Peter, a German, and Gaston, a Cypriot—the previous evening, when most of the staff had gone home. Several different versions are given, some with racial overtones. The men are mainly critical of Peter, but Anne, the Irish woman serving coffee and desserts, reminds them that Peter is in a difficult emotional state because he is in love with Monique, a married waitress. Monique enters and presents Peter’s role in the fight in a rather heroic light.

Peter, a young, boisterous, but good-natured cook at the fish station, arrives late and tries to effect a reconciliation with Gaston, but Gaston, a forty-something cook at the grill, is still angry. Peter and Monique quarrel through much of the scene, but eventually she agrees to ask her husband for a divorce.

There are some calm periods and lighthearted moments, but as the pace of work increases in preparation for the midday meal, tension mounts between various members of the staff. It is heightened by the arrival of the elderly, work-obsessed proprietor, Mr. Marango. Hans, a sensitive young German at the frying station, has an accident in the steam room, and his face is scalded.

Part 1 reaches a dynamic climax with the serving of the midday meal. Waitresses gathering at the various stations shout their orders, and the cooks shout back in repetition. Plates are passed to and fro. Tempers flare. Movements become increasingly frenetic; Kevin,...

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The Kitchen Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The setting of this play is its central metaphor. The kitchen is not merely a background; it is the dominant force in the drama, controlling the lighting, the volume of sound, the pace of movement, the relationship between the characters, and all of their moods and actions. The fact that the ovens—the basic machinery of the workplace—govern the lighting and the background noise makes a strong political point. When Peter severs the mains, the sudden silence of the ovens has a striking dramatic impact.

From the moment the kitchen staff enter, they are working to strict routines, controlled by the jobs they have been trained to do, the specialties of their stations, and the orders given by the waitresses. In the production notes, every kitchen worker is assigned to a specific part of the menu and to particular tasks related to it. The waitresses are under the same tight constraints.

Although the ovens, crockery, grills, chopping boards, plates, and knives are real, there is no actual food. All the work, from preparation to serving, is mimed. The contrast between the play’s overall naturalism and the stylization of the food processes produces an atmosphere of alienation.

Peter’s frustrated creativity, which he cannot express in words, is represented visually by an archlike edifice that he builds with kitchen utensils during the calm of the afternoon break. When he returns in the afternoon, it is broken, and he smashes it completely in the end. Peter’s song, Hans’s singing and guitar playing, and the Greek dance that links the interlude with part 2 are counterposed against the mounting intensity and violence during work periods.

The violence of Peter’s final, desperate outburst is prepared for in stages, beginning with the account of the previous evening’s fight, followed by Hans’s accident in the steam room, and then by Winnie’s agony through her self-induced abortion.

The Kitchen Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Barker, Clive. “Arnold Wesker.” In Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James, 1999.

Cohen, Mark. “The World of Wesker.” Jewish Quarterly, Winter, 1960-1961, 45.

Leeming, Glenda. Wesker on File. London: Methuen, 1985.

Leeming, Glenda, and Simon Trussler. The Plays of Arnold Wesker. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.

Pritchett, V. S. “A World of Kitchens.” New Statesman 62 (July 7, 1961): 24.

Ribalow, Harold U. Arnold Wesker. New York: Twayne, 1965.

Ribalow, Harold U. “The Plays of Arnold Wesker.” Chicago Jewish Forum, Winter, 1962-1963, 127-131.

Taylor, John Russell. Anger and After: A Guide to the New British Drama. Rev. ed. London: Eyre Methuen, 1977.

Wilcher, Robert. Understanding Arnold Wesker. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991.

Woodrofe, K. S. “Mr. Wesker’s Kitchen.” Hibbert Journal 62 (1964): 148-151.