Stitching

 
Company of Sirens , Chapter Arts Centre , July 8, 2012
 
 
From Wales Arts Review (http://www.walesartsreview.org/stitching.html)


When Anthony Neilson's Stitching was performed at the Edinburgh Festival ten years ago, the Guardian reported that the controversial play prompted walkouts from members of the audience. If the Company of Sirens' latest production is anything to go by, I can safely state that the Edinburgh audience members that chose to leave missed out on an unsettling yet ultimately rewarding depiction of grief and lust.


It is not hard to see why people may have decided to leave. The powerful narrative has the ability to shock and disturb. With a typically gruesome and testing climactic scene that gives the play its title, Neilson's script could be in danger of alienating some with its bold brutality. The two protagonists, Abby and Stu, find themselves involved in a surreal re-enactment of a previously imagined sexual fantasy. But we are not invited in as voyeurs to this act; we recognise that at this point the characters have lost everything. The final act of mutilation brings nothing but sympathy for them – though I don't think I will ever be able to listen to The Mending Song from Bagpuss ever again.


But the most shocking thing about the play is not its depictions of sexual debauchery. After all, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then obscenity must also be given the same treatment. The sex scenes themselves are actually well choreographed. Starting in anger and violence and ending in passion and confusion, they are performed with immediacy and an uncomfortable realness – the action remains graphic even though the actors remain fully-clothed throughout. Even when Stu is being mothered at Abby's breast with a sex toy, everything is believable.


And this is what is most shocking about this production. It is how human the characters actually are. For all their faults as people – their infidelities, their destructive relationship that neither can break, the double-bluffing list-making on the pros and cons of abortion – the main sympathy with the characters lies with the fact that their loss that the play unstitches in each confrontational scene is so huge that it warrants a sympathetic interpretation. Abby, played by Stacey Daly, has a need for humiliation and brutality which shows her inherent weaknesses. Stu, played by Nathan Sussex, finds a need for humiliating and degrading Stacy through his sexual fantasies, until one of them takes things a step too far.


The narrative itself unfolds in two streams. The first one plays off on a linear line. When Abby finds out that she's pregnant, she and Stu discuss where to take their relationship and try to sort out their problems. But as their gradually intensifying story is played out, we are given flashbacks of what we are invited to behold as the subverted courting of the couple. Abby is a mature student and prostitute, and Stu is a punter. The closer we get to the climax and epilogue of the whole thing, the closer we get to the truth about their relationship and what brought them to this particular tragic point.


Considering this is a Scottish play, it has travelled extremely well. The only disjointed bit of dialogue that didn't translate well into the South Walian accents of Nathan Sussex and Stacey Daly was the use of the Scotticism 'just now,' which had the effect of momentarily halting the suspension of disbelief brought on by the tense acting. But the delivery itself brought a naturalness to the performances, as well as the intimacy between the two principal actors.


This is no doubt helped by the set design itself. With the audience sat around a central stage, there is no fourth wall for the actors to break through. Played out underneath a chandelier of hanging pictures, letters and child's drawings, the central space changes colour with the mood of the proceedings. Jo Hughes' minimal set has two platforms diagonally facing each other over what we believe when entering to be a neutral middle space. But this space acts as an engaging metaphor for the characters' divide. And as soon as the dialogue intensifies when they meet underneath the pictures, we realise that the divide acts more as a battle ground rather than a common ground.

Reviewed by: Joao Morais : Wales Arts Review

Stitching

Company of Sirens , Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff , July 5, 2012

 

Following so very soon after an excellent production of Howard Barker’s I Saw Myself, here is another fine example of Welsh produced theatre art of the highest quality. In the hands of director Chris Durnall and actors Stacey Daly and Nathan Sussex Anthony Neilson’s controversial play is given an extremely fine, true and absorbing presentation. Stu and Abby clearly love each other but just how deeply that love goes is highly questionable.

The opening moments of the play where they discuss whether or not to make a baby reveal, with no little humour, the uncertainties and elements of doubt that have crept into their relationship. The pace and timing in this sequence effects a particular aesthetic beauty, despite the incidents of disturbing pornography that Stu seems keen to bring into their relationship, that permeates the whole of the production. Neilson introduces some horrifying obscenities into the action (many people walked out of the first production in Edinburgh and the play was banned in Malta) and some of them are hard to bear. The actors embrace these challenges with complete commitment but the disgust is to some extent mitigated by the sensitivity and commitment of the acting and the underlining delicacy of the relationship. 

Sussex gives an extremely strong performance and although his demands on Abby are extreme, and she is eager to be complicit most of the time, both he and Daly present us with two very vulnerable people who totally win our sympathy. In her very few moments of happiness Daly’s whole body and face seem to glow with delight. Yet in the scenes where they play prostitute and client she becomes hard-hearted and demanding and Sussex unpleasant, crafty and and vacillating.

It soon becomes very clear that there is no way in which this relationship will flourish and the extraordinary note on which it ends is really too hurtful to endure. Neilson is an award winning and very highly regarded and successful author, he is undoubtedly sincere, maybe he is just a bit braver than most, there is no fantasy in the depravity of the thoughts and actions he introduces, this is a genuine artist with a deeply penetrating eye on human depravity if indeed that is what it is, and in the hands of Durnall, Sussex and Daly he has been astoundingly well served. It was extraordinary that even though we had been exposed to such awful degeneracy everyone in the audience left feeling well satisfied with the beauty and artistic achievement of the evening.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

 

 

Stitching

 
Company of Sirens , Chapter Cardiff , July 6, 2012
 
 
Review from the British Theatre Guide (http://britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/stitching-chapter-cardif-7661)

Abby and Stuart are a youngish couple who have just discovered that they are expecting a baby. This evening, they have to decide whether they are going to keep it, and whether the relationship will survive whatever decision they make. The situation is complicated by the fact that she is a student who moonlights as a prostitute, and he is a serial adulterer, addicted to extreme on-line porn. Or are they? We are in the world of Anthony Neilson, so things aren't quite that simple.

This is the Welsh premiere of Stitching, first staged in Edinburgh and London in 2002; director Chris Durnall and actors Nathan Sussex and Stacey Daly obviously fell in love with the author's uncompromising take on the interpersonal when working together on The Censor a couple of years ago.

This production is in the round, and Jo Hughes's set is minimal: two split-level tables in opposite corners of the space with a chandelier constructed from emotive photographs suspended from the ceiling. When we first meet the couple, they are pogoing together to Iggy Pop; this is pretty much the last carefree moment we witness. There is much dark humour, though, as the couple jab verbally at one another's tender spots, not to mention those of the audience—the Moors Murderers and concentration camp victims are invoked in an interplay of carnal shock tactics.

Over 75 minutes, Neilson takes us through the pivotal evening of decision via flashbacks, flashes forward, and surreal interludes (a child wandering onto the stage, then wandering off; an apparently drug-fuelled reminiscence), to the horrifying moment of self-mutilation which forms the play's climax. The language is uncompromising, and one is struck by the dislocatory effect of "sexual swearwords" employed in a sexual context, rather than as punctuation. Durnall's direction ensures that tension is maintained throughout; Caroline Lamb choreographs the (fully-clothed) sex scenes to sweatily potent effect; Jane Laljee's lighting design adds to the nightmarish ambience.

If there is a problem with the play, it is that scenes depicting reality, game-playing, memory and fantasy are so intertwined that I found myself expending more effort trying to figure out where within the narrative we were located than in empathising with the deeply troubled characters, who, despite their weakness, cruelty and self-destructiveness, were very engagingly drawn by Sussex and Daly. The piece is perhaps most effective if one reads it as a treatise on the destructive effects of grief and guilt on the psyche, rather than as some kind of universally relevant comment on the state of relationships in the Internet age; nevertheless, one imagines that it provoked numerous uncomfortable post-show conversations.

Compelling rather than enjoyable, Stitching is certainly a bracing experience. One is only sorry that the planned pre-show Q&A session with the playwright was cancelled—but perhaps some things are better left unexplained.

Reviewed by: British Theatre Guide

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