Reviewer's rating

‘Stuff’, ‘Women and Theatre’s’ devised exploration of hoarding disorder, opens with a snapshot of isolation. Piles of boxes and possessions sit in the gloom, awaiting the arrival of Anna (Janice Connolly), equipped with a torch and the latest M&S meal deal.

What follows is an exquisitely expressive display of a well-known but little talked about disorder and it’s complexities. Connolly is an animated story teller, adept at comic timing and highly detailed physicality. Whilst a slower pace with savoured emotions would have benefitted her portrayal, a humane and emotionally complex Connolly left a lasting impression.

Bailey’s direction excelled when interweaving this portrayal with a beautiful use of object puppetry, operated by Michael Crouch. Anna’s surroundings morphed into multiple presences; poignantly lit, each object chosen brought out another layer to her psyche – her maternal abandonment in an old coat, her loneliness in an odd shoe. A particular mention must be given to Anna’s dream sequence; Clive Meldrum’s sound design paired with Weir’s lighting formed a perturbing atmosphere around a monster-like puppet created with plastic. Watching such a well-textured sequence provided an almost painful insight into the memories continually haunting Anna.

The penultimate scene triggered an exploration of the class politics associated with hoarding disorder, bringing into question perspectives on excess and how this is so often linked to the kind of environment Anna lives in rather than the ownership of gilt-edged paintings in Chatsworth, as Connolly humorously puts it. This exploration’s effectiveness was amplified by the choice to raise the house lights and have Connolly address the audience directly. It was unclear at times during the first half of the production whether Connolly’s attention – and often questions – were directed towards the audience, meaning there were certain points of confusion throughout. This unfortunately led to a more active and expressive audience during moments that could have been beautifully private and simple, between Anna and her house as she was throwing things away. However, the inclusion of the audience in the penultimate scene was an exception to this and an incredibly thought-provoking way to bring the production to a close. A multi-textured and beautifully crafted show deserving of its full house.