Review: Sitting

SITTING playing at Arcola studio until May 11th. Details here

IN BRIEF Short, engaging, carefully-written three-hander takes its time to reveal its true colours, aided by acute performances.

There is an element of expectation for this play by celebrated actor Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd on TV, Home, I’m Darling on stage – currently touring the UK) in what I believe is her first authored play. Undoubtedly a fine and engaging actor, but the question is, can she write too?

The setting is an artist’s studio with canvases, easels, etc around us. Three people individually enter and sit, assuming their positions. These three are subjects of portrait sittings which we quickly discover are time-fluid, existing in different times but presented together for our examination. As an audience, we are listening as intently as the artist might be looking, as the three separate but interwoven conversations with the ever-silent and unseen artist meander along, sometimes with a revelation, quite often a well-placed laugh; it’s all very contemplative. The pace is leisurely but doesn’t stall.

Through the ebb and flow of casual conversation, the audience gradually begins to draw its own mental pictures of the characters here presented; a thirty-something married man who is verbally accident-prone, a fifty-something flirty woman and a gauche teenager. It is eventually revealed that all of these people have a connection with the artist, and the routes by which we learn this are circuitous to say the least, but to reveal the details of the story would be to burst the piece’s bubble, so I shan’t.

The actors all give detailed performances under careful direction, and I did enjoy seeing that thought that had gone into how each character was in their silent sitting time while another subject was the main focus of audience attention; even without words the characters still breathe through the actors’ focus.

One disappointment; the final surprise is clumsily handled and takes far too long, which lets the rest of the piece down somewhat. Nevertheless, I found it an interesting minor play, well-acted, and a fine way to spend just over an hour at the theatre.

SITTING plays at Arcola Studio until May 11th. Information and tickets here

FINAL THOUGHT It feels very much like this theatre run is a running-in process to prepare for SITTING to occupy a one-hour TV slot, especially bearing in mind that the show is co-produced by BBC Arts and Avalon. You may be interested to know that, as an approach, this has been done before to very good effect. As far back as the 1930s, the Marx Brothers (already stage veterans) took a stage show of the comedy scenes  from their upcoming movie A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, out on tour to see how they worked with live audiences. The sketches were in constant rewrites, responding to the nightly audience reactions, so by the time they got back into the studio to shoot the picture the material was extremely well-tuned. The returns justified the work, making it the highest grossing Marx Brothers film ever.

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