‘Sitting’ review – Katherine Parkinson makes a clever but mediocre debut

The Humans and IT Crowd actress’ play about three art models is witty and imaginative, but not quite a masterstroke – ★★★

Katherine Parkinson is certainly making her mark on British theatre. Not too long after a critically acclaimed run of Home, I’m Darling, her first play Sitting – created as part of a BBC Arts initiative – transfers from the Fringe to London.

One by one, the three subjects enter Susanna Henry’s art studio, a set which has a pleasing sense of authenticity within the chalky brick interior of the Arcola Theatre. The first is Luke, a naïve father and decorator who spends most of his time in the chair complaining about his wife and almost treading on the painter’s ginger cat on his way in. Mark Weinman delivers a standout performance in the role with perfect comedic timing.

The trio is completed by the quirky Mary (Hayley Jane Standing) and flirty aspiring actress Cassandra (Poppy Fardell). As monologues develop out of clumsy small talk, the three stories begin to interlace with one another, a fellow character ‘interrupting’ or ‘responding’ to the other as the conversation draws to a close. At their best, the transitions share the same topic or dialogue on matters such as sex and truthfulness, yet the majority of them are muddled and disjointed.

The painter of the model is known only as John, but the speakers do well to create a sense of character as a stern but observant individual. That image falters however with Cassandra’s excitable and enthusiastic interactions, where the unspoken replies from John feel all too sudden and rushed.

While the talkative individual browses her costume choices and Luke provides the comedy, Mary is clearly the most emotional and affectionate, addressing John simply as “me darling” and choosing to spend her time with him discussing relationships and family life. It’s a narrative handled with depth by Standing, though one which loses impact. As it switches between characters, discussions move between lovers and sisters, making what should be a rather linear story harder to follow.

This only complicates matters as it emerges that the characters are connected, the reveal satisfactory, but unsurprising. From its musical opening to its well-rounded finish, Parkinson’s script is charming and erudite, but struggles to make a lasting impression.

Sitting is now playing at the Arcola Theatre until 11 May.

Production Images: Alex Brenner.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch Sitting for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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