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A CurtainUp London Review
The Sewing Group
"We need to see something from her. We need to see something of the goodness of her soul." — F
The Sewing Group
Jane Hazlegrove and Fiona Glascot (Photo: Stephen Cummiskey)
We think that it's the seventeenth century and we are there to watch two women sewing by candlelight: the painstaking cross stitch for decorative under garments. Each scene change goes into momentary darkness. A tinny harpsichord plays. There is no speech. The women continue pulling the thread out then and puncturing through the linen in an embroidery frame.

F, a tall man (John Mackay) in a Puritan hat and black suit brings in a new member to the sewing group. She joins the sewers. In between scenes, they silently change positions on their stools but once lit, they continue to stitch silently punching in the needles and pulling out the thread. It is quite hypnotic to watch their detailed work by the light of the flickering candle.

The new person, C (Fiona Glascot), asks what crops they farm but they don't reply. She asks what they do while they sew. "Sew, is the enigmatic reply. C makes them sew with red thread and makes the design more complicated.

Another woman, D (Alison O'Donnell), joins them. C tells the others that D has been recently widowed and suggests they make a quilt from her dead husband's clothes so that he will have his arms around her at night. The quilt exercise is panned out to the whole sewing group so they will each make a quilt about themselves which will be open to interpretation — a bit like those management exercises where they use a piece of Lego or Playdoh to express the inexpressible, the unsaid.

the first indication we have that not all is as it seems is when C says she is Gluten free and the others don't appear to understand. This anomaly makes us feel she is from the future but the reality is that she is not. They are actors recreating a past. To be any more specific would be to spoil the surprise of EV Crowe's plot but believe me, it is especially hard to write about the impact of this play while not revealing its cutting edge.

The quiet stillness of the early sewing scenes is tantalising, the silent shifts of movement in the dark riveting, the lack of speech peaceful. Stewart Laing is both the director and designer of this memorable play. The room they work in is simple, wooden walls, one door a single high up window, the furniture plain and functional. Nothing interferes with the pulling of thread.

As C, Fiona Glascot is from another era with her small acts of rebellion as she claims worth for her activities, her interventions. C is animated and impulsive and strong willed. As F, John Mackay judges her contribution to the group. I really liked EV Crowe's experiential play although it also puzzled me in a quiet way.

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The Sewing Group
Written by EV Crowe
Directed and designed by Stewart Laing
Starring: Fiona Glascot, John Mackay
With: Nancy Crane, Jane Hazlegrove, Sarah Niles, Alison O'Donnell
Sound Design: Christopher Shutt
Lighting Design: Mike Brookes
Movement: Theo Clinkard
Sewing Consultant: Ruth de Courcy
Running time: 85 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 23rd December 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th November 2016 performance at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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