Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711
Peter, a twenty-three-year-old cook specializing in fish. He is German but has been working for three years at the Tivoli, a London restaurant at which the play is set. He gradually assumes the dominant role in the play, mainly because of his nervous, excitable energy, which becomes manic in the end, with his smashing the kitchen’s gas supply and crockery with a chopper. He is quarrelsome and jealous, with an almost hysterical laugh that suggests basic emotional instability. As the play opens, he has had a fight with Gaston; as the play progresses, his affair with Monique, which is tempestuous and frustrating, is revealed. He sees himself as “a merry fool going into battle,” but he admits that he is unable to “dream” of what he would really like in life: He can only play childish games. Peter is full of unresolved contradictions and unchanneled energies.
Hans, another German. He is on an exchange program and is four years younger than Peter. They often speak to each other in German, because Hans’s English breaks down under pressure, as when he speaks with Cynthia, one of the waitresses, with whom he is infatuated. He appears to be the only cook who understands Peter and helps calm him at times. Overall, he seems happy and even cheeky.
Monique, a waitress. Although she is somewhat older than Peter, he is her lover, by whom she has become pregnant twice (the babies presumably were lost in back-street abortions). Although Peter desperately wants her to leave her husband, Monty, it becomes increasingly obvious as the play proceeds that she has no intention of doing so. Monty is able to provide her with the material comfort she craves. During the afternoon, she and Peter have another frustrating and stormy meeting, typical of their present pattern of quarrels and reconciliations. The pressure of this up-and-down relationship contributes to Peter’s final act of destruction.
Paul, a young Jewish pastry cook. He and his fellow pastry cook, Raymond, together with Alfredo, counterbalance the “madmen in the kitchen” with their steady work. Paul acts as a reconciler in the various quarrels that arise. He is upset about his wife’s desertion of him. During the afternoon interlude, with the kitchen at its quietest, he confronts Peter with his own dislike of Peter and his frenzy. In the only really long speech of the play, he talks of the need for solidarity among working people. His dream of harmony in the microcosm of the kitchen is only part of his (and the playwright’s) dream of harmony among all workers.
Kevin, the newcomer to the kitchen. He has come from a much quieter restaurant, presumably attracted by the better pay of the Tivoli. Together with Anne, a kitchen worker, he represents the Irish in this United Nations of a kitchen. He is clearly shocked at the pace, protesting that it is impossible to do any good work at such speed and that he is physically unable to keep up with the relentless tempo. His protests draw responses from the other cooks about how they have come to terms with these problems.
Mangolis, the four Cypriots in the play. Gaston is the oldest of them, being about forty. Unlike the others, he has lived in England for some time. As the play opens, he has been involved in a fight with Peter. Like Nicholas, he dislikes Peter, and probably all Germans. The quarrel is never resolved, adding to the personal and racial tensions of the kitchen.
The Chef, a large, middle-aged man who communicates very little during the play and exercises almost no leadership. He prefers to let his cooks sort out their own problems. Only Peter’s violence at the end stirs him momentarily, revealing more than anything his contempt.
Mr. Marango, the Tivoli’s owner. Together with Alfredo and the Chef, he represents the older generation who can see life only in terms of the work-money nexus. He hovers around the kitchen much of the day without contributing to its life. He is completely nonplussed by Peter’s violence: He will never understand that good wages actually pay for very little.