Katherine Parkinson’s Sitting: Adapted for BBC Four
Beginning life at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018 before transferring to London’s Arcola Theatre, Sitting is the debut play by The IT Crowd star Katherine Parkinson, who also performs in this new adaptation for BBC Four.
Mary, Luke and Cassandra are being painted at separate sittings. The characters never interact, but as they each offer outpourings it becomes clear there is some overlap between their lives. Unseen artist John never questions or comments, and so it is up to the audience to sit back and absorb the array of emotions, self-conscious reflections, and sometimes meandering musings of the three individuals.
“I can’t stand my wife, but I respect her,” explains Luke, played with textbook comic timing by Mark Weinman. The decorator opens the play by stripping off as he mistakenly assumes he’s sitting for a nude life drawing. At first Luke might appear to be there for light relief, his one-liners and bumbling commentary being the most humorous. But with each stroke of the artist’s paintbrush, viewers witness and dissect new layers of the character and unearth hidden sensitivities beneath the boyish bravado.
This is Parkinson’s project and her performance as Mary is completely compelling, as the character endeavours to make sense of her complex life. The actress utilises her ear for comic dialogue and astute observations to create a conversational and richly naturalistic script. The format of monologues, though, renders it too confined and limited at times. Points are made and then repeated, so when the narrative eventually reaches its climax, the impact is more muted than it should be.
Having directed a who’s who of home-grown acting talent in recent versions of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, as well as two episodes of the BBCs theatrical response to the pandemic, Jeremy Herrin is a safe pair of hands as the director of Unprecedented. While he no doubt draws the best from his actors, the piece remains somewhat static and stilted throughout, prompting the question of exactly why it has been adapted for the screen. Other than being able to witness the beautifully intricate mannerisms and facial expressions of the cast, this televised version of play is severely lacking in any visual action and, without the intimacy of an auditorium, arguably feels better suited to radio. That said, the predominant theme of yearning for human connection could not be more significant during these times. While the audience are never on the edge of their seats, Sitting succeeds in stimulating their thoughts and at the very least serves to showcase some fine acting and writing.
Photo: Avalon – David Monteith
Sitting is on BBC Four on 7th April 2021 and available to stream via BBC iPlayer thereafter. For further information visit here.