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Review: Stitches (Hope Theatre)

Review by Harry Bower


⭐️⭐️⭐️


Pub theatres are exciting places to discover new work. They feel intimate, live, and unpredictable. The Hope Theatre continues its reputation for championing vibrant new work with Stitches, a one-man show which explores the life of a girl called Chloe through the eyes of her teddy bear. In what is essentially a sort of grown-up Toy Story concept, the aptly named ‘Bear’ is given to Chloe at birth, and though Bear cannot talk to adults, or eat, or move on his own, he is somewhat sentient – and very sweary.

 

A tame version of Ted, the animated toy, Bear walks the audience through Chloe’s life, from birth, to childhood, funerals, house parties, getting her first period, having her first sexual encounter, going to University, and finding a longer term partner. As Chloe grows up, Bear faces the inevitable fate of most childhood comfort toys; the closet. That is, until many years later he re-emerges to comfort Chloe once again near the end of her life. The storytelling is believable and well achieved through some amusing physical theatre and efficient direction, which makes use of the understandably restrictive space. There is some basic projection which aids proceedings and adds a bit of depth to aesthetic.



Fundamentally, Stitches is a confusing piece of theatre; and herein lies my struggle with it. In many ways this is a play about the objectification and violence women are subjected to, particularly by young adolescent men. There are poignant and strongly thought-provoking ways in which the play exposes that, and by presenting these events through the lens of a usually inanimate object helpless to intervene, these scenes are both shocking and uncomfortable. But, then, the piece seems to veer off in a completely different direction and quite suddenly becomes all about living with dementia; an equally noble topic but one which doesn’t align all that well with what we’ve already seen.

 

It’s also a shame that the only real knowledge the audience has about Chloe ends up being that she has experienced trauma from sexual violence; we don’t know what she does for a living, how her life has developed, what her interests or skills are. Perhaps this is a clever way of representing the objectification of young women; but it didn’t feel like that was the intention. I learned little to nothing about Chloe’s character or temperament and by the time she was suffering from dementia and the end of the play came about, I simply didn’t find myself caring about her or the relationship. That’s problematic because it makes the important messages less direct and impactful. The intense moments of sexual intimacy, violence, and in some cases assault, feel deliberately aggressive and meaningful but in the end are moments of impact in a sea of storytelling which I became more and more ambivalent to.



Likewise, I don’t really feel for Bear either. His sweary, aggressive, quick-to-anger personality is childlike in its manifestation, which in isolation is fine – but throughout the piece I found it challenging to warm to him. That meant that when he is neglected or requires some sort of sympathy, I had little to give.

 

I think the problem for me was that while there are charming moments throughout and the performance by Blakeley is both committed and enthusiastic, I struggled to get past the voyeuristic manner in which the relationship between Bear and Chloe is represented. Telling a story from an isolated viewpoint requires the actor on stage to impersonate other toys and humans they encounter. That would be fine if each person had different voices or physicality, but in Stitches I found it hard to differentiate between who was saying what. Jumps forward in time aren’t clear either. If you’ll forgive the pun, it meant I was literally stitching together the story piece by piece and making some wild assumptions in real-time in order to catch up.



Of course, as usual, this review is one man’s opinion. I would strongly recommend anyone reading this whose interest is piqued, attends the show for themselves to make their own mind up. While this sounds like an overtly negative review, there are plenty of strong elements. The premise of this show is unique, inventive, and creative. The ideas explored in isolation are fascinating topics for reflection and addressed sensitively. There are some laugh out loud moments to add light to the shade and Blakeley is both likable and empathetic as a performer. For me though, this is one piece of theatre which needs a few more pieces of the puzzle to make the complete picture. With some tweaking, an improved focus and perhaps ten minutes off the run time in its current format, Stitches could become something with real and weighty societal commentary as thought-provoking as it is enjoyable to watch.

 

Stitches plays at The Hope Theatre until Saturday 09 March 2024. For more information and tickets visit https://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/stitches/

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