If you want to see a totally different and thought-provoking piece of new writing, then head along to the Churchill Theatre in Bromley where the touring production of The Dishwashers plays until Saturday.
The main draw for this extraordinary piece is the casting of David Essex in the lead role. The unlikely scenario of David Essex introducing absurdist theatre to the masses is, given the nature of the production, incongruously appropriate.
For absurdist theatre the Dishwashers most certainly is. The strange, unsettling worlds imagined by Samuel Beckett, most notably in Waiting for Godot, are clear inspirations here, and this piece is every bit as nihilistic. Playwright Morris Panych creates his own microcosm in the kitchens beneath a restaurant where three dishwashers toil in obscurity; their hopes and aspirations reaching no further than the four walls that entrap them. As with Beckett’s works, The Dishwashers is tragicomic: it’s laugh-out-loud funny, but simultaneously deeply unsettling, claustrophobic and nightmarish. Panych is the heir to Beckett.
Emmett (Rik Makarem) has fallen on hard times and is forced to take a job as a dishwasher to get by. But it’s only temporary until he can move up to bigger and better things… Dressler (David Essex) has been a dishwasher for many years and is content with his lot. He sees his job as a craft, a fine art, even a science, and until Emmett sees their little world the same way, he refuses to use his name. A third dishwasher is Moss (Andrew Jarvis), a greasy, doddering old man, terminally ill with cancer, whose grip on reality is ever diminishing. The only suggestions of life beyond their dungeon-like existence are the characters Emmett and Moss mention, glimpses that their life extends beyond their job; and the talk about the restaurant managers, unseen and capricious forces who hold power over the workers: fate, god, whatever you wish to call them…
Panych’s play is wise, witty, startling – and disturbing. Not everyone likes having a mirror held up in front of them with a piece that forces the audience to look at the utter futility of the human condition. There is no escapism to be found in the Dishwashers, but a drama that questions our sense of self-identity, especially when we link it to material wealth and our hopes and dreams.
Panych’s world is one you will either buy into or not, and The Dishwashers is the kind of play you will either love or hate. A lukewarm reaction will be the preserve of very few. If you rarely see any theatre other than jukebox musicals and are tempted to come along in case David Essex breaks into song (he doesn’t – though he briefly hums at one point) – save your pennies because you probably won’t like the play. If you have more adventurous tastes, and most especially if you like absurdist theatre, then head along as you’re in for a treat.
We found David Essex surprisingly good in the part of Dressler. To damn with faint praise is the result of his occasional hesitancy over his lines during longer speeches. There remains the nagging feeling that a fine stage actor (Simon Callow springs to mind) could bring even more out of the part. Rik Makarem, seen recently in Passing By, provides excellent contrast as the animated everyman Emmett, and his descent into Dressler’s world is the journey we follow. Andrew Jarvis is frequently in danger of stealing the show as the decrepit and unhinged Moss. He conveys an incredible amount of pathos in a part that is essentially a caricature.
One final note is another boon to the production – the music of Grant Olding (Drunk), which adds another layer to the unsettling atmosphere so captivatingly created by the script.