Directed by Simon Kane & Elf Lyons
Pros: Well performed, a great stage set and entertainingly annoying characters.
Cons: An hour and half felt like a long time without a breather but any break would have damaged the tension and flow of the play.
Our Verdict: The play was enjoyable as a portrait of sibling relations but there is no great denouement so enjoy the ride rather than expect a grand finale.
A short walk from Kentish Town tube station brings you to the Lion & Unicorn pub and theatre. The pub itself is bright, airy and beautifully dressed with colourful armchairs and wonderful ‘caviar’ wallpaper. There’s a great garden, street-side seating and the food looked good from where I sat drooling while waiting for the theatre to open.
Sitting With Thistle is set in an old cottage somewhere in the wilds of Wales during a snowstorm. The stage set is wonderfully detailed, which makes a nice change when so many sets are often very minimal. We have the makings of an eccentric old woman’s country kitchen – open-shelves loaded with the requisite paraphernalia, a battered wooden table and chairs with blankets for keeping the bitter cold at bay. Plus a display of sheep skulls presiding over the action.
Mark (Mathew Foster) and Elyse (Pascale Morrison-Derbyshire) have arrived for a family visit to their grandmother but she dies and they get snowed in before their parents or the emergency services are able to reach them. So they’re stuck with a dead body and each other.
The characters in this two-hander were illustrated in the first few minutes when we see that Mark is a laddish, juvenile and irreverent young man whereas Elyse is more serious and responsible. That alone would provide plenty of clashes but this is intensified with the fact that there is no-one else to bounce off and nowhere to storm off to. Added to this they have no television, no mobile signal and no wi-fi so it’s back to the basics – books, hang-man and bickering.
Many of us will recognise the classic situation of going to visit family and finding that we immediately revert to our childhood or teenage personas. All the old arguments and rivalries rise to the surface and our adult selves seem incapable of remaining calm and mature despite all good intentions beforehand. If this play is anything to judge by then thank heavens we don’t find ourselves trapped in these situations too often. The characters become almost gladiatorial and come close to actually killing each other until eventually festering old wounds get gouged opened, truths are finally told and we are left with the possibility of healing.
Personally I found both characters quite annoying. Mark was the typical irritating brother who knows exactly which buttons to push to get maximum response. Elyse is prissy, pious and superior. At certain points I just wanted to knock their heads together and send them to the naughty step. Yet bit by bit much of their angst with each other gets explained and we come to understand how they have arrived at this point in their relationship.
An hour and a half felt quite a long time without a break but any interval would have meant the tension would have dissipated and it would have been impossible to regain that lost ground. Both actors gave absorbing and provocative performances which is no mean feat for just two people for that length of time. My only gripe would be that I’m not sure the eventual revelations really warranted the theatrical journey. It may be better to look at it as a straight forward study of a sibling relationship rather than expecting a great reveal.
One word of warning – if you’re at all squeamish about seeing blood then be warned that there is one point when you might want to turn your head away.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
Sitting With Thistle runs at The Lion & Unicorn Theatre until 19th October 2013.