This initially seems like a historical drama, something you assume is going to turn Witchfinder General but instead you get an elaborate look at modern life, which is baffling.
E.V Crowe’s concept sounds intriguing
“A woman arrives in a rural village in pre-industrial England. Her desire is to sew and learn from their simple way of life. But the group soon begins to suspect she is not who they thought she was.”
The initial scenes are baffling, brief before the audience is plunged into the darkness. The odd comment, the odd look out the window C played by Fiona Glascott is the newcomer, with her soft Irish voice she seems like a young woman lost and confused as she asks questions about where she is to the baffled A (Jane Hazlegrove) and B (Sarah Niles). Increasingly C grows in confidence, changing how the group do things, employed D (Alison O’Donnell) and the eventual twist (which I won’t spoil) doesn’t reward its audience for the last hour and feels a rushed. I liked John Mackay (F) but the presence of Nancy Crane feels wasted as C.
The issue is that in a room above a pub this would feel daring but it is just a bit too rough around the edges for The Royal Court, in its 60th year, this feels forgettable and uninteresting. Whilst I appreciate the sentiment it doesn’t say anything new or exciting, at one point I was convinced with its Irish lead that it was planning on ripping off People, Places and Things but it just isn’t as skilled. I couldn’t relate to Glascott’s character and whilst she is an intriguing actress this isn’t a good showcase for either the writer (who shows glimpses of potential, especially with dialogue) or the cast as it is sadly rather bland.
The direction by Stewart Laing feels like a subpar Katie Mitchell, who has her fans but I am not one of them but his set design makes it more forgivable. He employs the irritating tactic (which can also be seen in Nice Fish) of going dark between scenes. On a personal level I get anxious about people tripping but on a practical level I feel like it takes me out of the play, it should go only go dark to signal the interval or the end.
The Sewing Group is on at the Royal Court London (Jerwood Upstairs) until 23 December https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/the-sewing-group/,
Tickets from £12
Programmes/Play text is £3