B is doing a great job at work. She’s supported other people throughout their careers and balances a fast-paced, full time job with another full-time role – being a single parent (or mummy-daddy, as her daughter calls her). Then one day, in a crucial meeting with a client, she makes a joke to close the deal, and uses a bad word. With her reputation now on the line, B tries to save her job whilst maintaining her pride. After all, the word isn’t necessarily a bad word in context, and B certainly doesn’t seem like a bad person. In this nail-biting seventy-minute office drama, we learn about words and truth. About what we say, how it can be twisted, and about the rumours that can destroy a career. 

The play touches on current issues surrounding language and the media. We never actually find out what the bad word is, which allows the story to maintain its intrigue. Also, it is stylised with bizarre, somewhat absurd movement. Charlotte O’Leary stretches her face with her hands in shock and extends this further by sinking down to the floor and wriggling offstage. When B confronts her bosses, we’re exposed to the flexibility of her seniors, as they literally stretch and lunge. When spoken, certain words are selected so that a flash of coloured light and televisual sound effects accompany an action or pose. Scene transitions are often choreographed through funky dance sequences too. It’s intriguing; it doesn’t always feel purposeful, sometimes a little gimmicky. At points this seems suspicious, as if it is a device used to disguise some weaker moments in the text. 

The trio of performers (Katherine Pearce, O’Leary and Jack Wilkinson) play in rep this season, giving them all a great opportunity to show off their versatility. Pearce, as our protagonist B, owns the stage. Her body language is vibrant and open; she has a determined eagerness in her arms, her strides. Her performance alone makes up for a plot that can feel slightly empty. We find out a bit more about the word: that it’s negatively associated with a particular ‘community’ and may or may not be ‘classically offensive’. But somehow, she gets a much worse backlash than Fred, who has built up a bad reputation for years. The case becomes gendered, about how men get away with breaking the rules whilst women are scrutinised for “one stupid tiny little word”.

The plot could take things further, and the subtle interaction with the audience and the stage technician thought through a bit more, but ultimately there is enough going on to keep us hooked. With references to Toblerone as a ‘continental chocolate baton’ and ‘traitor triangles’, it really is rather brilliant. 

Sticks and Stones is playing Summerhall until 25 August 2018. For more information and tickets, see here.

Photo Credit: Ganesha Lockhart