Glossary Home Movements

Kitchen Sink Drama 

Kitchen sink drama, or Kitchen sink realism, is a term applied to a period in British film, literature, and art that occurred during the late 1950s and 1960s. It was based on a general frustration with contemporary life and curated art/literature. 

Kitchen sink realism depicted the world as it is. It did not shy away from the grimy, everyday realities that modern Britons faced during this period. It was not uncommon to find writing or films that touched on homelessness, alcoholism, pregnancy and abortion, poverty, and more. 

The term “angry young men” is often used when describing kitchen sink realism. It applies to the working and middle-class authors in Britain who were writing during the 1950s. They were well-known for expressing their disillusionment with British society. The phrase has fallen in and out of use due to its vague defining characteristics. 

Kitchen Sink Drama Definition, Characteristics, and Examples

Definition of Kitchen Sink Drama 

Kitchen sink dramas are storylines, sometimes plays, television shows, or literary narratives that depict Great Britain during the mid-1900s. These realistic storylines were focused on depicting life as it was. They often included anti-heroes who readers/audience members might struggle to like and bring to light real issues within contemporary life. 

Class was one of the major themes at work within these literary works. Characters often struggled with success, their careers, poverty, homelessness, and many taboo topics (including crime, sex, abortion, and more). 

Characteristics of Kitchen Sink Dramas 

  • Set in industrial, middle-class England.
  • Include characters with accents and who use slang
  • Take place during the mid-1900s. 
  • Include taboo issues and expose the realities of contemporary life. 
  • Often feature pub/drinking scenes. 

Examples of Kitchen Sink Dramas

A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney 

This kitchen sink drama was Delaney’s first, written when she was only nineteen. It deals with themes of race, class, gender, and more. It premiered in London on May 27th, 1958. It was later adapted into a film and released as a paperback.

The play is set in Salford in the 1950s and focuses on Jo, a seventeen-year-old girl, and her mother. Jo beings a relationship with a Black sailor who wants to marry her. But he goes to sea, leaving her behind. The situation is complicated when she later learns she’s pregnant. 

Here are a few lines from Jo’s mother, Helen, from the beginning of the play as they are looking for a place to live in Manchester: 

I’m careful. Anyway, what’s wrong with this place? Everything in it’s falling apart, it’s true, and we’ve no heating – but there’s a lovely view of the gasworks, we share a bathroom with the community and this wallpaper’s contemporary. What more do you want? Anyway it’ll do for us.

Alfie by Bill Naughton 

Alfie is a kitchen sink drama that premiered in London in 1963. It focuses on the life of Alfie Elkins, a working-class man who highly values the company of different women. The play features scenes from Alfie’s life, from 1916 to the late 1950s, and his attempts to appear successful, despite not having money, class status, or an education. 

The play was later adapted into a film that starred well-known actor Michael Caine. A later version, produced in 2004, featured Jude Law as Alfie. 

Kitchen Sink Films 

Below is a list of a few of the most popular Kitchen Sink films produced during this period: 

  • This Sporting Life (1963)
  • Look Back in Anger (1959)
  • Room at the Top (1959)
  • Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
  • The Comedy Man (1964)
  • A Place to Go (1963)
  • The Family Way (1966)
  • Poor Cow (1967)
  • Up the Junction (1968)
  • Sparrows Can’t Sing (1963)
  • The Leather Boys (1964)


What is an example of a kitchen sink drama? 

A Taste of Honey is a well-known kitchen sink drama. It was originally produced as a stage play but was later adapted into a film. It focuses on two characters dealing with the realities of contemporary life in England in the mid-1900s. 

What are the elements of a kitchen sink drama?

These plays, films, and novels are set in Britain in the mid-1900s, feature characters struggling with taboo issues (pre-marital sex, alcoholism, homelessness, etc.), and do not shy away from presenting the real world as the writer saw it. 

Where did the term “kitchen sink drama” come from?

The term came from a specific painting by John Bratby of a kitchen sink. It alludes to writers’ (and artists’) focus on everyday, domestic issues that real-life Britains could relate to. 

Why Look Back in Anger is considered to be a kitchen sink drama?

Look Back in Anger is a well-known example of the genre. It focuses on the dissatisfaction of characters dealing with the class status quo in England. These are the main features that define this short-lived movement in Britain. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Angry Young Men: a group of British writers and novelists disillusioned with society who produced work through the 1950s.
  • Martian Poetry: a small circle of British poets in the late 1970s that depicted everyday objects in a disorienting light.
  • Contemporary Period: refers to written works that were created after World War II. Prior to this was the modernist period. 
  • Experimentalism: one part of Modernism and postmodernist literature. Writers take risks, try strange new techniques, and attempt to create something never seen before. 
  • Literary Modernism: originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused in Europe and North America.

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