Tap Gallery or the Artist's Paradise as it refers to itself, is tucked away down Palmer Street in Darlinghurst. An old converted townhouse, up the stairs to the right, you'll find yourself in what feels like someone's house. A million books paper the walls, smell of cat creeping up your nostrils. It feels like the living room of someone who owns a junk shop but won't part with the merchandise. I perch on the couch next to a young couple and fiddle with my iphone. The vibe is cosy but I feel hopelessly anachronistic. We are called into the theatre and I am a little relieved.
The audience is small but young. The Little Spoon Theatre Company is a young production company and the play is contemporary. Even so, I was not expecting an audience of millennials. The theatre space at Tap Gallery is small but I like it. It is like a mini-version of The Stables. Anna Gardiner's set is backdropped with chicken wire. Various objects hang from the wire, a teddy bear, a towel and large black dildo. What the? The lights fade up and I immediately regret sitting in the front row. I am illuminated. I'm now a part of the set. “Oh well, this will be intimate.” I think.
I had no idea.
Anthony Neilson's 'Stitching' revolves around Abby (Lara Lightfoot) and Stuart (Wade Doolan), a couple grappling with internal demons that are revealed to the audience though arguments and bizarre sexual encounters. Love, loss and unsettling sexual-desires scratch and scream their way from the characters in what culminates in a very dark, twisted ending. The script is aggressive and violent, the performances highly personal and frightening. Doolan and Lightfoot seemed very comfortable with the stage, using every inch of it as they debase and fondle each other.
Their simulated sex is brutal, demeaning and right at my feet. This was definitely the most awkward I've felt in a theatre. There were many times in this performance where I had to look away. Doolan and Lightfoot performed with an incredible intensity, some of which can be attributed to their real-life long-term relationship. Mark Westbrook's direction was faultless. I truly felt catapulted into their dark and raucous world.
The performances in many ways outshined the quality of the writing. Maybe some of the language works better in an UK setting where the play hails from. I just can't really see a twenty-something year old man bellowing “Christ” in frustration. However Doolan manages to sell it. I can understand why 'Stitching' was banned in Malta. For all its intensity, the reliance on shock-factor became wearing and a little unnecessary. I would have liked some breathing time between holocaust references and cries of the “c” word. As it is, it runs the risk of absorbing the audience into the surface hysteria and missing the deep trauma that lies at its core.
The music was appropriately somber and emotive. Chelsea Reed's voice rich and haunting. I think she was standing behind the chicken wire performing live but I actually couldn't see from where I was sitting, even though I was in the front row. Which is a shame.
'Stitching' in not a piece I will forget anytime soon. The images burned into my mind, this is some truly confronting theatre. Gritty and relentless, be prepared for the darkness.