Category Archives: Posts

she seeks out wool

She Seeks Out Wool

★★★★

Pleasance Theatre

she seeks out wool

She Seeks Out Wool

Pleasance Theatre

Reviewed – 27th January 2022

★★★★

 

“Sophie Ablett’s script and performance is thoughtful and charming”

 

If I’m being entirely honest, I didn’t really have high hopes for this show. A ‘one-woman spoken word and large-scale live-knitting’ sounded almost like a satire, and I was just grateful it would only last an hour.

But Sophie Ablett’s script and performance is thoughtful and charming and entirely surprising. Ablett was taught to knit by her mother, who was taught by her mother, and so on. It’s a way of showing love and care, and of keeping something of the family’s history alive. As Ablett stitches the various threads of her family into one garment, she talks us through journeys across Poland, France, Spain, Portugal, Belarus, finally landing in Liverpool. But there’s one face, in an old family photo, which has remained unknown to Sophie. So, she decides to pick up this thread and try to mend the hole left by this unidentified woman.

There are so many Holocaust narratives across so many mediums, sometimes it seems like shock value is necessary in order to get the message across. But Ablett delivers a powerful message, not via shocking details but in the lack thereof; in the silences created by a withholding of official information.

A simple tree made of yarn sits on a trunk of tangled rope in the background, and various coloured balls of yarn hang from the ceiling, ready to be unravelled and woven into an ever-growing shawl. Such a simple design (Beth Colley) could have been catastrophic, but Ablett is a natural storyteller, and as she sways from side to side on the balls of her feet in order to knit this giant family tapestry, she fills the stage with her quiet good nature.

There’s nothing fancy about this production. Ablett, as directed by Mamoru Takano, is barefoot, in black leggings and a jumper. And though the spoken-word script gives an undulating rhythm to the story, Ablett’s delivery is conversational and understated. Nonetheless, it’s a compelling story, made all the more so by its unusual yet endearing presentation.

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Harry Elletson

 


She Seeks Out Wool

Pleasance Theatre

 

Recently reviewed at this venue:
Catching Comets | ★★★★ | September 2021
Lights Out | ★★★★ | October 2021
Dog Show | ★★★★★ | December 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

PAYNE: THE STARS ARE FIRE

Payne: The Stars are Fire

★★★

Jack Studio Theatre

PAYNE: THE STARS ARE FIRE

Payne: The Stars are Fire

Jack Studio Theatre

Reviewed – 27th January 2022

★★★

 

“As in the first play, the drama is broken up by balletic interludes, but less successfully than formerly”

 

And so on to the second play of the duology The Dyer’s Hand produced by Arrows & Traps Theatre Company, written and directed by Ross McGregor. A delightful opening scene serves as a link between the two plays in which Cecilia Payne (Laurel Marks), having completed her studies at Cambridge, informs the ageing Gustav Holst (Toby Wynn-Davies) that she is about to take up a research post at Harvard; an opportunity impossible for her as a woman to achieve in the UK.

With a soundtrack of jazz and blues, and an array of American accents, we arrive in 1920s USA. The set (Designer Odin Corie) is retained from the first play but with the music room paraphernalia replaced by the scientific. Harlow Shapley (Alex Stevens) with bow tie and bravado is the director of the new Harvard astronomy department and oversees the work of historical scientists Annie Jump Cannon (Cornelia Baumann), Adelaide Ames (Lucy Ioannou), Donald Menzel (Edward Spence) and the newly arrived Cecilia Payne. There is little sense of drama in the work they do – counting and cataloguing stars – but a running gag about whether Donald can have a cookie and some stoical one-liners from Annie show there are laughs to be had. Lucy Ioannou lights up the stage as Adelaide with an effervescent performance that provides welcome colour amidst the grey. Marks continues her good work from the first play, portraying Payne as ambitious but socially awkward. When Payne makes her ground-breaking astronomical discovery, she is reduced to tears of despair by top scientist Henry Russell (Toby Wynn-Davies) when we might have hoped she would stand up to be counted. Wynn-Davies, with a desperado moustache and softly spoken drawl, brilliantly plays Russell rather closer to Bond villain than senior astronomer.

As in the first play, the drama is broken up by balletic interludes, but less successfully than formerly. An extended dance sequence mourning the tragic death of Ames distracts from the main direction of the plot. A very well created cinematic cartoon of a car journey, excellently mimed by Marks, Spence and Ioannou, provides light relief but does not fit within the style of the rest of the production.

A flash forward at the end of the play shows us Payne finally being awarded the Professorship she has long craved, and the play reinforces the well-made message that women have been held back in the field of science through centuries of male tradition and misogyny. A late scene also links the two parts of this epic undertaking with Payne and Holst reunited to reminisce on the journeys they have undergone. With it comes the opportunity to show again the on-stage chemistry existing between Wynn-Davies and Marks.

 

Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Davor @TheOcularCreative

 


Payne: The Stars are Fire

Jack Studio Theatre until 19th February

Payne: The Stars are Fire is part two of Arrows & Traps new repertory season: The Dyer’s Hand

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Holst: The Music in the Spheres | ★★★★★ | January 2022

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews