Beside the Kitchen Table

The Play

The Story

The Baker family live in a big old house in the country. They're an ordinary family; mum, dad and three children - Jenny, Michael and Abigail - though none of them are actually children any more. They used to have a dog, Dylan, but he ran away years ago when they really were kids. At least they think he ran away - they can't be sure.

I say it's a big house, but like a lot of families they spend most of their time in the kitchen. That's better for me, because I can't really go anywhere but the kitchen - a little way into the garden, but I don't much like it there. I'm Lily - Lily Buckland. I came to the house fourteen years ago and I never left. They don't notice I'm here anymore, but why should they?

No one notices you when you're dead.

So I hang around the kitchen, sitting beside the table watching their lives go by. Sometimes I try to talk to them, but they don't hear, or if they do they pretend they can't, just like I pretend they can. Sometimes I shout, but it doesn't do any good. Mostly I listen. You can learn a lot that way; there's not much goes on in this I house I don't know about.

But one day, someone will hear me. I don't know which one - Jenny, Michael, Abby; I don't care. But at last I'll be able to tell them, and then they'll understand and they'll give me what I want - all I've ever wanted.

Fourteen years is a long time to wait for revenge.

The Production

The world premiere of Beside the Kitchen Table was staged in November at The Marlborough Theatre in Brighton in November to full houses and rapturous applause.

A further production is planned in the near future. More details will be published here when we know them.

The Writing

About three years ago, in 2009, I'd submitted the second novel of The Danilov Quintet to my publisher and found myself at a bit of a loose end while I waited for the editorial feedback that would lead to either a few minor tweaks or a stream of rewrites. Previously I'd done plenty of writing for musical theatre, but decided I'd like to have a go at a straight play. I started trying to come up with ideas for a story, and quickly realized that the best idea was one I'd already had.

Beside the Kitchen Table actually first came to me in the late 1990s as an idea for a novel. I'd done dozens of pages of notes and plotting, but eventually abandoned the concept, not least because there wasn't enough meat in the story to fill the hundred thousand odd words a novel requires. Moreover it was the story of a ghost who could not leave the confines of the kitchen of the house in which she died - hardly the sweeping grandeur of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow that became the backdrop to my first published novel.

But what's inappropriate for a novel can be ideal for a play; a concise plot and a single set made the basis for the tight, claustrophobic script that the story became over the next few weeks of writing.

There's another big difference between a play and a novel - a play is nothing if it remains on paper. It has to be performed. So once the writing was finished there followed two long years of persuasion, begging, cajolery and old-fashioned bullying to persuade a director and a producer to mount a production.

And once that hurdle was passed, came more rewrites. I originally wrote the story set in the present day, but after read-throughs it seemed to all that it wasn't quite as modern as that - little things like the lack of mobile phones, and the fact that the family passed their time playing cards instead of Xbox. It was easy to see what had happened. The play's protagonist, Michael, is eighteen years old. I'd been writing about the world I knew when I was eighteen; subconsciously I'd set the play in 1986.

More rewrites - though in fact surprisingly few - erased the anachronisms and added a touch of 80s nostalgia, and now we're just a few weeks from the first performance, at the beginning of November. I feel an odd mixture of excitement and trepidation. When the first shiny printed copies of a new novel arrive it's a thrilling moment, but I don't immediately sit down to read it; I've already read it - and read it again, again and again. A play is so much more than the words I've written; it's the input of the director, and every actor, and the set designer, lighting designer and costume designer - and everyone else who's made a contribution. On stage it will be something very new to me.

Which is why, on the first night, I'll be grabbing myself a front row seat.

Jasper Kent, October 2012