Reviewer's Rating

Often the most inward themes in drama are mightily enhanced by an intimate setting where the performer is only a few feet away from the audience. This is certainly the case with ‘Stitches’, a very fine, thought-provoking solo performance from Jonathan Blakeley, working from his own script, that has just opened at the Hope Theatre in Islington.

The play opens to reveal the actor dressed in a teddy-bear suit, but this is no clown’s garb or sentimental pantomime. Instead we have the opportunity to experience role reversal and view a human from the bear’s point of view. This is the story of Chloe, from childhood to second childhood, as witnessed and experienced by her bear, originally gifted to her by her grandmother. Blakeley records his encounters with her family, friends, and lovers all refracted through the protective loyalty he expresses towards her, a loyalty that for long periods is unreciprocated once adulthood for Chloe means his relegation to a shelf in her bedroom. But he is still able to witness and comment, wryly, angrily, or wistfully on the events of her life.

This is first and foremost a brilliant piece of physical theatre. Quite apart from the number of characters and incidents he needs to bring to life, involving a huge amount of text, Blakeley becomes the bear before our eyes and depicts his adventures with rare invention. This is emphatically not a spin-off from Paddington. Earthy, and often intemperate rather than polite, he shares his frustrations, the pains of neglect, and anger at mistreatment (whether Chloe’s or his) with both vigour and pathos. He slumps and flops as a doll or puppet would when abandoned, endures storage, rough treatment, a wash cycle, and crude restitching that has no relation to the Repair Shop. But there are find comedic moments too, not least as he gets to witness Chloe’s hapless parents or first ventures and fumbles into sex.

While there is no interval, this is definitely a show with two halves, for we suddenly segue from Chloe as a young adult to her final years, now affected by dementia, without much, if any, transition. This section could be usefully reworked to smooth the gear changes without overextending the length of the evening. But the final twenty minutes of the show are suffused with an impressive and very different tonal range, both poignant and touching. Chloe is reunited with her bear, as her grip on consciousness fades, and her family struggle to assist her. Blakeley reveals a rare range of tenderness here that contrasts with the comic brio of the earlier phases. The open-ended conclusion that leaves the core relationship between child and bear intact beyond this life, stretching out like a vapour trail, seems well earned and unsentimental, a reminder of the continuity of the child within us that adulthood tends to shut down or deliberately overlook.

While Blakeley is outstanding in this show, credit also needs to go to director, Samantha Pears and lighting and sound designers, Mattis Larsen and Hattie North. There is a very detailed lighting and sound scheme to illustrate each episode which lifts the interpretative burden from Blakeley’s shoulders a bit, and gives us a richly textured, detailed context in which to imagine each scene.

So, at a time when the Hope Theatre’s future is seriously under question, do not be deterred from exploring this season’s fare. As this excellent show reminds us, some of the finest theatre in London emerges in unexpected locations without which we would all be very much the poorer.


Written & Performed by Jonathan Blakeley

Director: Samantha Pears

Venue: Hope Theatre

Until March 9th 2024

75 mins, no interval