Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Stitched Up ... peace walls coming down, along with standards in the National Death Service

Kate (Roisin Gallagher) comes home buzzing with excitement at the news that her years of negotiation have paid off and there is a political agreement to bring down all of NI’s peace walls.

But in a flash her mood changes when she notices a letter on the kitchen worktop that explains her surgeon husband Aidan (Richard Clements) has been suspended from work due to a patient complaint.
Kate: “The peace walls are finally coming down …”
Aidan: “… pulled down by the political munchkins”
Rosemary Jenkinson’s play Stitched Up clearly echoes the frustrations she has experienced with the NHS processes, waiting lists and her need for a back operation. Though I trust her surgeon didn’t leave a small pair of scissors inside her. [You can listen to my interview with the playwright in last week’s preview post.]
“I take full responsibility … it was the theatre sister.
While Aidan has a humanitarian calling to help people, Kate is driven by power (being seen to sort out the peace walls) and money (her husband’s) rather than altruism. The couple’s relationship is passionate, yet laced with jealously, insecurity and secrets. The loss – at least temporarily – of a surgeon’s income jeopardises Kate’s penchant for expensive high-heels; but the publicity from Aidan’s defensive statement to the press about the state of the NHS and the Royal’s management imperils her standing in the local peace industry.
“Who do you think you are? Julian Assange? Everyone hates a whistleblower.”
The tempo in C21 Theatre Company’s production is upped whenever Aidan gets a phone call one night from someone who cannot go to hospital but wants to take advantage of his vulnerable position to benefit from his stitching skills. Ruari (Darren Franklin) enters the house and soon recovers his Ballymurphy swagger, though his comic one liners – “Only rakin’ yer bacon!” – get so many laughs from the audience that he almost loses his more sinister edge.

The acting has a pace that is unfortunately lost during some of the prolonged scene and costume changes: it’s early in the run and should get slicker as the production matures. Gillian Argo’s minimalist kitchen island unit set will travel well as the play tours Northern Ireland after this week’s run in the Lyric Theatre.

While politicians make sweeping statements and proffer unqualified optimism, I’m not convinced that a long-time practitioner like Kate would use the rhetoric of “no more anger, suspicion or distrust”, “tonight the Troubles are over forever” and suggest that David Cameron’s promised investment of £50m in each interface area would eliminate poverty.

However, throughout the play, local vernacular abounds and lifts the mood. Some of the dialogue causes the audience to wrestle with racist-sounding utterances from the lips of a supposed peacenik as Roisin Gallagher throws her talent at the representing the complexities of Kate.

Health Minister Jim Wells gets the last line in a play that is as much about the insecurity, integrity and power-struggles in a couple’s relationship as it is the crisis in the local health service and the next steps in the peace process. The well-drawn tension in the 75 minute one act play and the universal pressure on health provision mean that the production could travel further afield without losing its impact.

Stitched Up is in the Lyric Theatre until 21st February before embarking on an NI tour.

February
  • Wednesday 25 at 8pm: Sean Hollywood Arts Centre, Newry 028 3031 3180
  • Thursday 26 at 8pm: Riverside Theatre, Coleraine 028 7012 3123
  • Friday 27 at 8pm: Strule Arts Centre, Omagh 028 8224 7831
  • Saturday 28 at 8pm: The Playhouse, Derry 028 7126 8027

March
  • Tuesday 3 at 8pm: Michelin Club, Ballymena 028 2566 3655
  • Thursday 5 at 8pm: Craic Theatre, Coalisland 028 8774 1100
  • Friday 6 at 8pm: Market Place Theatre, Armagh 028 3752 1821
  • Saturday 7 at 8pm: The Courtyard Theatre, Newtownabbey 028 9034 0202
  • Sunday 8 at 7pm: Cushendall Golf Club, Cushendall 028 2177 1318
  • Friday 13 at 8pm: Island Arts Centre, Lisburn 028 9250 9254
  • Saturday 14 at 8pm: Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick 028 4461 0747

Production photos by Neil Harrison

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