Stitching – Little Spoon Theatre Company shine a light on our inner darkness. (Theatre review)
Little Spoon Theatre Company at the Tap Gallery
In some ways the provocations in Stitching come as a relief from the intensity of the play. Stitching is (in)famous for it’s in-your-face sex scenes, its brutal use of culturally significant horrors, and its dark subject matter, but sitting in a room with Abby and Stu the most overwhelming feeling is one of connection with the couple and to see them admit to, vocalise or play out their pain is a welcome point of demarcation between myself and the characters. To be frank, Stitching is far too close to my own experience of relationship for me to sit through it with comfort and I don’t have the ego to presume the play is speaking directly to me, therefore I am left with the realisation Anthony Neilson and the talented crew of Little Spoon have brought something to life that lies dormant in each of us.
Relationships are regularly violent, and not only when they are violent. No matter how many Hallmark cards exist for our edification, our long-term lover is the place where our darkest person is played out either in the rallying against, the refusal of or the groundless love and passion we bestow that no human can possibly live up to. We see the battle played out on the body all around us all the time through marriage, the battle for reproductive rights, monogamy, fertility issues and sex and this definitely turns violent at times. Most of all we see it played out in the battle for the child, the entity that is the one true product of the coupling, another creature on whom we bestow all the pressure to sanctify and justify our love, the child often carrying the burden of loveless and painful marriages that are continuing on its behalf. How regularly are children accused of being the cause for the perpetuation of what parents see as a cage, either in the frustrated sigh or the out right accusation? Children are banned from the most fun adult activities, such as drug and alcohol abuse, sex, infidelity and all the other oddities humans engage in after hours. They’re considered too pure, too impressionable to witness those things, so of course they learn to burn for them. We are responsible for children and therefore at times, we secretly fear and hate them.
These are the sorts of themes brought to the surface in Stitching, a play that speaks the unspeakable in each of us and the ways we deal with that ugly part of ourselves. Just because we have darkness and evil inside of us, doesn’t mean we are dark and evil people, but it does mean there is a battle being played within on a daily basis that may end up being a victory based on routine and law-abiding behavior, but is filled with little losses and mini crises of character. The signs of this struggle are all around us, from the severe exploitation of prostitutes through our hysterical vilification of pedophiles or our equally hysterical tolerance toward rapists, we continually see the evidence of our incapacity to deal with the darkest parts of ourselves. Art is the only place these issues can be raised and discussed in a safe and sane environment and Anthony Neilson wants the middle class to stop “talking shop” and address some of the seamier sides of life. Like “real life” when we choose a scapegoat to blame, we use the outward manifestation of ugliness in Neilson’s play, choosing to become inflamed (or its shadow, bored) over the use of a reference to the West murders when really what has churned the stomach is how close to seeing ourselves in Abby and Stu we have come.
To further enhance this uncomfortable closeness, Little Spoon Theatre company have produced a darkly intimate portrait of Stitching. The upstairs theatre at The Tap Gallery is an intimate space, the audience sit very close to Abby and Stuart as they play out their frustrations upon each other, and are brought closer still through Anna Gardiner’s set of wire mesh that holds props on meat hooks and only allows the gentle voice of Chelsea Reed to waft through the wire and glass from a distance. Mark Westbrook directs actors Lara Lightfoot and Wade Doolan into a delicately paced, realist, toned down intimacy that brings the couple uncomfortably close to the “normal” white middle class we wish they weren’t. Despite their actions and the pain they inflict on each other, underlying the tension between them is a Catholic guilt that demands physical retribution – sometimes we hurt ourselves just to be sure we can still feel. Lightfoot and Doolan are in a long-term relationship, and this nuance further ads to the recognisable intimacy the audience relate to. As Neilson’s play moves back and forth through time, using this theatre trope to expand the narrative arc in surprising ways, the couple use small indicators of the passing of time such as hair styles and staging to show us Abby and Stu might be dealing with something horrific, but the seeds of what they have become were planted long before tragedy gave reason to their madness.
At its core, Stitching asks us why we go to the theatre. Art is the one place morality can be played out along side its contradictions, it is the only place we can safely examine our extreme thoughts, desires and actions. It is nice to feel good, but it is also important to ask ourselves tough questions, and art as a mirror can do this. Stitching may not be the most joyful theatre experience you will have this year, but it will be one of the most provocative.