'Kitchen Sink' is the term given to a particular type of drama, which focuses primarily on the trials and experiences of the urban working class, itself stemming from the wider 'Kitchen Sink' movement of social realism in art. Although material of this theme and nature can be found from numerous different sources, the term itself originates from and usually applies to drama produced in the United Kingdom, itself stemming from the 'Kitchen Sink' movement of realism.
Kitchen Sink originated in and was particularly big in the 1950s and 1960s, and experienced something of a revival in the 1980s and 1990s, but the tropes and methods it inspired lingered within drama produced outside of these periods. Within British drama, it revolves primarily around the experiences of the working class in urban and industrial areas Oop North
, such as Manchester, Liverpool,
Sheffield and Newcastle-upon-Tyne
, although urban working class in areas further south (primarily London
) were also commonly represented. The primary theme of the material was the kind of struggles and issues faced by these people on a routine, everyday basis; the term 'kitchen sink' itself evolves from the stereotypical image of scenes involving two working-class women conversing over their washing, or angry confrontations whilst the wife is cooking dinner for the man of the house and the like.
As a movement, it evolved primarily due to the rise of educated working class writers, artists and actors emerging from the post-war reforms of British society, including the education system, which opened up opportunities to those previously excluded from it. Many of its primary movers themselves grew up in working class environs, and were writing as a direct reaction to prior stereotypical depictions of the working class; before this movement really took off, the depiction of the working class tended to be either forelock-tugging yokels who happily deferred to their social 'betters' or were simply violent, uncouth thugs
. As a consequence, Kitchen Sink Drama
usually contains some kind of political agenda about it, often a leftist or socialist one, and is often motivated by political anger; not for no reason, the term 'Angry Young Men' was frequently applied the early contributors, movers and shakers involved in the movement. Most of them also experienced working class life first-hand, as opposed to being middle-and-upper class types, and were motivated by the desire to show the working class experience as it actually was.
As a consequence, expect works in this genre to be quite grim. True Art Is Angsty
tends to dominate.
In lesser (and, it has to be said, more recent) hands, Kitchen Sink Drama
can frequently be just as patronising as the earlier depictions, with the added bonus that the working class experience is rendered as depressing as hell to boot. Done poorly, it tends to be True Art Is Angsty
turned up to eleven; the experiences of the working class are simply reduced to unremitting and unending misery, with little warmth, joy, life or humour presented; even the Angry Young Men tended to concede that working class life was not without rays of joy poking through the gloom. Particular in later variations on the theme, there can also be a sense at times that the makers don't really know what life for the working class is like, but are just making it all glum and miserable because that's what they've seen in other, better dramas that have came before
Not to be confused with Conspiracy Kitchen Sink
, Fantasy Kitchen Sink
, Kitchen Sink Included
and Weapons Kitchen Sink
- Marty, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1955, is a simple story about a butcher who falls in love with a schoolteacher, and his mother who is worried that Marty will abandon her.
- British soap opera Coronation Street was a proto-example of this; it was one of the first shows that really looked at what life was like for the working class in Britain.
- In fact, most if not all British Soap Operas started out using elements of this trope, especially the cast of working-class everyman archetypes and occasionally some quite pointed social commentary. This caused a certain amount of confusion when Dallas turned up in syndication.
- Nearly everything ever written by Jack Rosenthal, who got his start writing for the aforementioned Coronation Street, though he also expanded it into the "aspirational" lower-middle classes of Stepford Suburbia.
- Paul Abbott's Shameless, which is semi-autobiographical, plays the trope for Black Comedy instead of Wangst.
- The movies of Ken Loach tend to be of this type.
- Many of Shane Meadows' movies, such as This Is England.
- Many of Jimmy McGovern's films.
- There is a whole group of Swedish authors known collectively as "proletarian authors" (or "worker authors") from the early-mid 20th century that deals with this kind of material. Authors include Harry Martinsson, Eyvind Jonsson, Vilhelm Moberg and Ivar-Lo Johansson.
- From Russia, we have Maxim Gorky.
- In America, whilst his works preceded the British movement, John Steinbeck's works often cover similar ground.
- From Finland, V??nna.
- Steptoe And Son was an example of this in sitcom form; it was one of the first television sitcoms to take the comedy out of upper / middle class drawing rooms and into a poor working class environment.
- Its American clone, Sanford and Son, tries to do much the same thing, with the added twist that the poor, working-class people are mostly black (oh, boy, class and race in one sitcom!).
- Some Monty Python's Flying Circus sketches invert or subvert this trope:
- The Four Yorkshiremen sketch featured four stereotypical men from Oop North competing with increasingly outrageous stories of childhood deprivation.
- Another sketch had a pure inversion; the well-dressed, soft-spoken son comes home to his family with his rough-talking, clearly working class father... Only to reveal that the father is a theatre playwright living in the centre of London and the son has become a coal miner in Yorkshire. The whole sketch is like an inversed Cliché Storm Kitchen Sink Drama: Instead of having damp-lung and being overworked at the factory, the father has writer's cramp and is stressed out over press interviews, the father doesn't comprehend what the bloody hell a "tungsten carbide drill" is, and so on.
: Hampstead wasn't good enough for you, was it? You had to go poncing off to Barnsley
! You and your coal-mining
: One day you'll learn there's more to life than culture; there's dirt! And mud! And good honest sweat! Father
: Get out! You labourer!
- Naturally, as he's a playwright, he immediately lampshades the developments of the sketch as "I think there's a play in here".
- In Israel, this sort of drama is centered around the people living in "Development Towns", mostly located in the mid-southern part of the country along the edge of the Negev Desert. So instead of coal mines, you've got factories. Instead of grim and gloomy weather you get sandy wind, unpaved roads, and large blocks of concrete-housing out in the middle of nowhere. Strangely, the media seems unwilling to let go of this notion, despite some of those town having already grown to city-sized proportions.
- The 1980 Soviet film Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, about a working-class girl struggling to make it in the capital.
- The American play and resulting film The Subject Was Roses.
- The UK TV series Brass parodies this and a whole related bunch of tropes — or rather, parodies the genre of "Grim Oop North" kitchen sink dramas.