Sitting with Thistle

Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes

Lion and Unicorn Theatre – 9th October 2013

It’s been snowing heavily all week. Siblings Mark and Elysé have been trapped in a cottage in Wales for three days. Gran died after two…

With just two actors in this short play by Marietta Kirkbride, Sitting with Thistle promises to be an intense and intimate production of eccentricity, intrigue and mystery.

Sat in the front row, an eerie wind is blowing across the stage, which is covered in an eclectic collection of random objects, including sheep skulls and a mysterious bundle that looks disturbingly like a corpse.

The play begins with a locked door and Mark (Mathew Foster) trapped out in the snow… His sister ignores his anxious cries and the stage remains empty. The lights go out and the audience shivers. It’s chilly in the auditorium and this, plus the howling wind adds to the atmosphere.

As the play continues to unfold we start to see a picture of Mad Granny Alice and how her life took a turn for the worst many years ago. The writing is good, the story absorbing and the two actors work well together.

Visually, the stage is well-presented and objects that appear random are actually key to the story. Designer Jenny Davies manages to engross the audience in the tale before it even begins as there is so much to look at and question.

Unfortunately, the acting ability from Pascale Morrison-Derbyshire fails to match that of Foster, as she struggles to portray her character’s emotion clearly through her voice. At times she speaks like a bored teenager, which detracts slightly from the script, especially as Elysé is supposedly the elder sibling. However, her body language at times is excellent, particularly when the blown eggs are smashed as she appears to feel the impact herself.

Mathew Foster on the other hand manages to convey his character’s emotions well and when he is trapped in the snow his panic is very convincing. There is clear tension between the siblings, but at times it feels a bit sexual, rather than the result of sibling rivalry and estrangement.

Yet the overall effect of Sitting with Thistle is intense, especially when the lights go out and the stage is in complete darkness – unnerving to say the least. Kirkbride has also chosen to end her play with unanswered questions, so that the audience are left to draw their own conclusions as to the outcome of the characters’ situation.

As most people seemed to decide on an unhappy ending, the play clearly succeeds, as it has managed to get under the audience’s skin and affect their emotions.