Originally written for the stage, ‘Sitting’ finds itself in the new home of television, courtesy of BBC4. The three merging highly naturalistic monologues really do find a home here. In fact, they are just as home here as they would be on stage.
The concept of sitting for a portrait is somewhat a little laboured. Indeed, we are led to believe that a painting is one of the most intimate depictions of a human soul. The ‘sitting for a portrait trope’ is used throughout literature, film, plays and television. Thus, the trope no longer feels as revolutionary as it once did. Perhaps the original Fringe run revelled in the novelty, but here, the concept feels a little stale.
As you can imagine with a portrait scene- nothing much happens. Nothing apart from the occasional munch of a biscuit and the occasional sip of wine. In ‘Sitting’, the focus is all upon the voice. Jeremy Herrin’s direction shines when the three cast members are edited together on one screen, unintentionally responding to each other. At points, one could be mistaken for thinking that they are talking about each other, both by chance and design. Writing dialogue this natural is difficult. Parkinson definitely demonstrates an uncanny knack for it. For debut writing, this feels extremely mature.
Cassandra Dove (Alex Jarrett) yearns to be an actor, Luke (Mark Weinman) who initially believed he should be posing nude finds himself reflecting on his relationship with his wife and soon to be born daughter, and Mary Standing (Katharine Parkinson) tells us of her fractious relationship with her sister Aggie. All three performers give brilliantly natural believable performances, Parkinson especially showing her maturity as actor.
Here are three humans, telling us the contents of the lives, the hilarious and devastatingly sad. Is it palatable? Well, it’s certainly moving. But we are moved to what end? The world is filled with moving stories. Here we scrape the surfaces of some of the character’s most life changing moments. We know they are holding back. Sometimes this characterisation works, as it does with Mary Standing, and falls flat as with Luke. And while, this may be a cathartic release for Parkinson, releasing elements of her personal life into the void, one wonders to what end aside from testing the waters of being a playwright?
‘We are not alone’ is occurs far too frequently in productions. To realise we are all connected is to release that we are all human. Obviously. But, the conceit of portrait sitting doesn’t allow for the characters to express everything, just what they allow themselves.
It is an interesting concept. The stories are gripping. The execution has some striking moments. But overall, it is extremely safe and nothing that rocks the boat.
Sitting is available via BBC iPlayer https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000ty09
Reviewer: Melissa Jones
Reviewed: 9th April 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★