After a sold-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe, Sitting, Katherine Parkinson’s debut play, transfers to the Arcola Theatre. It is a short play made up of three overlapping monologues by three different people, as they sit to have their portrait painted and chat with the painter, who never appears onstage. It is a fundamentally interesting idea, but its execution is often mediocre.
Parkinson’s strengths lie in creating comic but well-rounded characters. Luke, played by Mark Weinman, has speech that is sporadic and often strange, but he comes across as a witty, easy-going and complex guy. The success of the writing comes from the comedy; he has a ridiculous, and yet believable, human way of thinking. His character was by far the best written and most likeable of the three.
I find the other two characters harder to connect with. Mary, played by Hayley Jayne Standing, comes across as quite an annoying and artificial woman. Her lines are witty at times, but her delivery misses the mark. Cassandra, played by Poppy Fardell, is an interesting and unusual character, and has the kind of ‘weird’ traits that are rare for female roles in theatre. But her narrative arc takes some strange turns, that feel wedged in to move the story along. Fardell plays Cassandra as a very self-conscious person, and whilst this is convincing for the character, at times it appears as though the actor herself is self-conscious. Having said that, her final scene is incredibly touching.
In general, the writing is fresh, but rough around the edges. It seems that the monologues were written first before being molded together in a story that doesn’t quite fit. This is not to discredit the storytelling – on the contrary, it is a fun challenge for audience members to piece together the facts of the play retrospectively. It is a little like The House of Bernarda Alba – we learn so much about the artist, despite his absence from the stage. But there is a heavy-handedness in the final section of the play, that seems to be a last-ditch attempt to reveal all and neatly tie up loose ends.
I would have enjoyed the play even if the monologues didn’t fit together. Sitting is an interesting and original piece of theatre. Although the acting is patchy, Parkinson shows promise as a writer, and has a deep understanding of character and of comedy.
Sitting is playing until 30 April. For more information and tickets, visit the Arcola Theatre website.