Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 1st June 2018
“an enlightening show from a talented and committed team”
Lady Anne Tree, who died in 2010, was an English aristocrat who became a prison visitor in 1949 after witnessing the devastating effect that a sentence had on a family friend. Having watched soldiers benefit from doing needlework, she wanted to introduce that skill into the prison system and spent three frustrating decades before finally getting government approval. She subsequently founded the Fine Cell Work charity which enables prisoners to build fulfilling and crime free lives by training them to do skilled and creative needlework. Based on Lady Anne Tree’s work, Esther Freud, herself a prison visitor, has written Stitchers allowing us to see up close a world of noise, violence and claustrophobia that few would choose to live in.
Upon entering the compact Jermyn Street Theatre, the audience is faced with an impressive set (Liz Cooke) that creates the feeling of being in a prison. When the lights come up on the opening scene, we experience an ear splitting cacophony of sound with cups and plates banging on the metal grid walls together with shouting, whistle blowing and doors slamming. It is an unpleasant introduction to prison life. When the sound finally subsides we see Lady Anne. It is the late 90s and complete with her bag of wool and material, she meets five prisoners whom we learn more about as the play progresses. Busby – a wheelchair bound repeat offender, Lukasz – a Polish hard man, Len – an ex army lifer, Tommy – a young and angry man on remand and Denise – a transgender woman on recall. The final character is Keith, a prison officer who on the surface is hardened by his years in the system but we see a softer side of him as he suffers domestic unhappiness. Each has a story of frustration and despair that is explored in detail.
Sinéad Cusack stars as Lady Anne. She is an experienced, accomplished actor and is perfect for the role. Many tickets will no doubt be bought by those who want to see her in a theatre where every seat is close to the stage. Michael Nardone is outstanding in his portrayal of Lukasz. He is able to show both the hard and soft side of the character and Ewan Stewart is a terrific warder.
Whilst there are large number of scenes, director Gaby Dellal manages to keep the piece moving. The lighting (William Reynolds) perfectly accentuates the more sensitive moments whilst the sound (Max Pappenheim) is at times a little aggressive but the use of echo does work well recreating the noise of prison corridors.
Esther Freud is clearly a talented writer who understands her subject well and who should be proud of Stitchers. Overall this was an enlightening show from a talented and committed team.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
Photography by Robert Workman
Jermyn Street Theatre until 23rd June
Previously reviewed at this venue