Marietta Kirkbride’s atmospheric two-hander Sitting With Thistle brings Theatre West’s ‘Picture This’ season to an end with suitable aplomb. Siblings Mark and Elysé are snowbound in deepest darkest Wales in the ramshackled cottage of their eccentric and recently deceased grandmother – in fact so recently deceased that the body is in the room next-door. Their claustrophobic predicament tests their – already strained – relationship to the limit and over the course of the evening long-held grievances and secrets are dramatically revealed.
Anna Michael’s beautifully designed set immediately makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into the old lady’s bizarrely decorated cottage (with bric-a-brac and sheep’s skulls on the wall).
The play begins with Elysé (played by Natasha Pring) doing her best to ignore the non-stop bored banter of her high-flying brother Mark (played by Paul Hassall) who is over from New York. As they await news from their parents on attempts to rescue them they bicker - in the way only siblings can - with Elysé becoming increasingly annoyed by her self-centred and hyperactive brother. These moments are beautifully played by both actors; particularly by Pring whose initially calm façade is pushed to breaking point by the restless and pacing Mark. Under Ed Viney’s tight direction this petty squabbling develops into something much darker with Elysé apportioning blame at Mark for the break-up of her relationship with her boyfriend. As the tension in the play increases so the actions of both characters becomes more reckless - and sometimes violent – and you begin to wonder whether they will both actually survive the night.
Kirkbride’s nicely crafted script develops the story at an effective slow-building pace and cleverly makes the unseen dead Grandmother into the play’s third character as Elysé and Mark share their memories of the old woman. My own minor quibble with the script is with Elysé’s medical condition causing her to bleed easily; to me this felt like a dramatic plot device to move the story along but apart from this I found myself gripped throughout. There was also a lot of well placed humour amongst the tension with some great comic touches from both actors.
Sitting with Thistle is a production where each element – writing, acting, directing, and production – combines to make an entertaining and thoroughly engaging night of theatre.
Sitting with Thistle plays at the Alma Tavern until the 10 December.