Review: The Sewing Group, Royal Court

“This is what we call a safe space”

When I was at primary school, we did a thing in needlepoint where we sewed seemingly random shapes in a line and only when we’d finished and Mrs Holcroft (I think it was) told us to look at the spaces inbetween, did we see that we’d made a handicraft tribute to Jesus. That’s still the first thing I think of when I think of sewing and there’s a tenuously similar link of ‘do you see what it is yet’ to The Sewing Group, EV Crowe’s new play for the Royal Court.

Stewart Laing’s production opens in the bare timber of a log cabin where two women are sewing. Enigmatically short scenes, sometimes containing just a single glance, interspersed with total blackouts offer tantalising threads to follow – an outsider joins this rural community but her mere presence in the group soon becomes a disruption, leading to more than just dropped stitches in the slow and increasingly strange unfolding of the story.

Crowe is clearly interested in the dynamics of female groups and in this pre-industrial moment, in simpler times somewhere in the 1700s, there’s a fascinating look at the role that this kind of relentless sewing work played in communities where women picked up a needle as often as we pick up our iPhones today. Thus it asks questions about who we are and how we spend our time and how technological advances have impacted on that.

I’m keeping this necessarily vague as The Sewing Group is the type of play you want to see with no foreknowledge at all but I will say that Fiona Glascott plays a blinder as the lead character and Sarah Niles and Jane Hazlegrove generate a perfect camaraderie as the original sewing pair. And as you knit one, purl one along your way to the truth about the group and whether lessons of the past have anything to teach us in the present, I’ll be in the corner still looking for Jesus!

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Stephen Cummiskey

Booking until 23rd December

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