The monologue, unsurprisingly given the circumstances, has become the “go to” dramatic art form of the last year. From the reboot of Alan Bennett’s masterly Talking Heads to no less than six recent OnComm winners, the possibilities of the personal confessional have been well and truly explored almost to the point of exhaustion, but still they come. One of the latest, Sitting is being streamed as part of the BBC’s Lights Up festival.
Written skilfully by Katherine Parkinson, thankfully it mixes up the format a little to provoke interest and show that there’s life in the formula yet. This play is actually three monologues but instead of playing them separately the trio is intercut meaning that parallels and references can be drawn out in a satisfying manner and split screen techniques employed by director Jeremy Herrin further reinforce points of congruence.
The three speakers are all acting as models for an unseen artist who is painting their portraits in separate sessions. As they sit for him they find themselves reflecting on their lives and as they are all slightly awkward and have a tendency to try and fill a silence, they probably end up saying more than they originally intended. The painter becomes as a confessor figure and as everything is shot from his point of view it means that we become silent participants as the models reveal more and more of their past and current lives.
Luke is finding it increasingly hard to maintain a rapport with his partner which is unfortunate as they are just about to have a child which she wants to call Pixie. Some of his comments show that he is rather unreconstructed in his attitudes and Mark Weinman is excellent at finding the humour in the situation, none more so than when he first appears naked thinking that the artist is going to practice his life drawing skills.
Mary is played by Parkinson herself. She has a complicated family history both in the past, having been overshadowed by a successful sister, and in the present where she seems almost enslaved to her daughter’s every whim. Although there are points of humour present, the air here is one of wistful melancholy and Parkinson nails every line with precision.
The third of the trio is perhaps the least successfully written. Alex Jarrett plays Cassandra who claims to be having her portrait painted for her father, though she also admits to being a bender of the truth, so it is quite difficult to pin her down throughout. Nevertheless, she provides an interesting counterpart to the two older characters.
Of course, the three characters prove not to be as disparate as initially they seem. While this will come as no surprise to the seasoned viewer, the fun is in seeing how the pieces gradually move towards each other and what, exactly, the links will be. It also seems fairly evident that the artist will prove to be more than just the person who is capturing their likenesses on canvas. A late (still silent) fleeting appearance by Paul Jesson in this role seems superfluous. As with most of these confessional monologues there is a stylistic simplicity to the look and the playing, with the characters sitting in front of a blank background and the camera mostly getting up close and personal. It’s an interesting debut from Parkinson the writer, with Parkinson the actor also on fine form. And there’s a nice bonus in the closing moments when the final portraits (created by artist Roxanna Halls) are revealed; they really capture the look of the actors and the essence of the characters.