The Play

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 903

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.

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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, an Irish newcomer struggling to keep pace, asks, “Have you all gone barking-raving-bloody-mad?” The tempo mounts until the waitresses are going around in a frenzied circle; the noise of the ovens crescendos. Finally, the lights dim, and calls for orders continue in the darkness until the stage is clear.

The interlude covers the afternoon break. Some of the younger men have gone out. In a mood of quiet philosophizing among those who are left, the idea of the kitchen as a symbol for the world outside takes shape. At a key point in the discussion, Peter asks each man in turn to express his dreams. Dmitri, a Cypriot kitchen porter, thinks of a workshop where he could mend radios. Hans dreams of money; Raymond, an Italian pastry-cook, of women; Kevin, who is stretched out on a bench, completely exhausted, of sleep.

In an important speech, Paul, a Jewish pastry-cook, says that he wishes he could find people to be less like pigs and more like friends. When Peter is asked to express his own dreams, he refuses and leaves suddenly with Monique. Others follow. The four Cypriots who are left move into a leisurely Greek dance, bringing the interlude slowly to an end. The dance merges into part 2, which is quite short.

The younger men drift back and talk about how they have spent the afternoon. Peter enters in a bitter mood; he has quarreled with Monique again, and she tells him that she will not leave her husband after all.

The Chef catches Peter surreptitiously passing some meat cutlets to a tramp and threatens him with the sack. Paul and Kevin bait him further, reminding him that he was unable to think up a dream. “I can’t dream in a kitchen,”...

(The entire section contains 1339 words.)

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