Debut Festival Review: Stitching

What just happened?

Stitching, written by Anthony Neilson, directed by Rebecca Feely, acted by Keira O’Flaherty and Fionn Foley.

Are you ok?

Just about.

Who are you, by the way?

Ali. Sometime bass player and peanut butter enthusiast.

Expand on why you are shivering wrapped in a duvet?

Stitching is a crazy basket of shock tactics. But not in a gratuitous way. It depicts a series of disjointed, turbulent exchanges between Abby and Stu, a couple confronted with an unplanned pregnancy in an already fraught relationship. The graphic content of the play – which is banned in Malta and prompted walk-outs at Edinburgh – conceals a number of very perceptive messages. Constructed ideals of femininity, and the twisted psychology behind them; the complexity of power dynamics in dysfunctional relationships; the insidious manner in which people influence each other for the worse.

Sounds pretty dark.

But not unremittingly so. It sounds strange, but despite the play’s heavy themes, its dialogue is effortlessly witty in places. There are some brilliant ripostes, and a few almost Beckettian circular conversations that take indecision to a comical level.

What else?

There is a lot going on in this play. Composed of eleven short episodes, it is interspersed with scenes of choreographed movement, as the couple join together in a twisted dance, appearing to support, pull, and overpower each other as if they are puppets on invisible threads. The mimed quality of such scenes could have easily looked exaggerated, but they are acted with such bleak conviction that they are convincing, and add to the nightmarish, fragmented quality of the play.

What about the other bits?

The use of movement is complimented by an eerie electronic soundtrack which fades in and out, ranging from an ambient crackle to a dark swell of distorted noise. It’s all very ominous.

Anything else of that nature?

The lighting, which coincides with the musical intervals, comes in sudden blasts from one wing, drawing attention to the empty, cavernous space of the stage. The set has been arranged minimally, with a range of disorienting props. The use of props is something I could talk about for a good while, actually. Objects are used incongruously: children’s milk bottles take the place of celebratory glasses of wine, despite the fact that the characters mention a corkscrew; dolls and colouring books feature, removed from their usual context and usually used to a disconcerting or sinister end.

Easy to follow?

It shouldn’t be. The eleven episodes are anachronistic, taken at random from different periods in an already complicated relationship. But enough detail is exposed that the watcher actually ends up with a pretty good idea of the story’s trajectory.

Overall: I won’t take my gran to see it, so.

Maybe not, but Stitching provides perfect ingredients for a polemical discussion on gender and violence. Go see it with friends who have been warned.

Any last thoughts?

A daunting, provocative production, treated here with aesthetic flair and unsettling intensity. Fair play to all involved.

I get it! ‘Play.’ If you like reviewing and that kind of nonsense, we’re here for you.


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