Imagine the scene: you’ve been summoned to a family gathering at your Grandma’s house in the far reaches of Wales. You and your estranged sibling make it, your parents get stuck in a snowstorm. You’re getting along okay, but then Grandma dies. Unfortunately, the snowstorm takes a new lease of life.
Sitting With Thistle takes us in here, as Elysé and Mark attempt to maintain an air of civility whilst ignoring the rotting corpse on the floor. Mark plays the bored jester, keeping a tally of how many times their parents have phoned and playing with every knick-knack in the house, at one point making a sheep’s skull talk to his vegetarian sister. For her part, Elysé just wants to read her book and attempts to cut out the snow, cold and her annoying little brother. I can relate.
This cordiality doesn’t last long, which is the first great thing about Sitting With Thistle: by so sharply contrasting a typical sibling relationship with what Elysé and Mark have, their cruel bitterness is exposed beyond doubt. Flashes of affection crop up throughout, but what dominates is years of cruelty, bitterness and jealous resentment, underpinned by one of the strongest bonds humans share.
…we felt all the bad blood that raged between them…
The performance captivating and enthralling: the brother-sister relationship isn’t easy to emulate but we felt all the bad blood that raged between them. Pascale Morrison-Derbyshire’s Elysé was fuelled by ear-deafening shouts and sudden flicks between raging anger and empty despair, whilst the upstart younger brother is played to snotty perfection by Mathew Foster, whose humour and self-absorption tussled with Morrison-Derbyshire’s empty despair as the emotional tug of war played out.
The set was a character in itself, representing the dead granny and her years of collecting, festering and never letting go – exactly what the siblings had been doing to their relationship. Despite the overwhelming amount of toot packed on to the tiny stage, it was perfectly balanced, every item had a place and purpose. None more so than the haunting sheep’s skulls hanging from the back wall which at several moments I expected to jump off.
…an extremely clever way to really immerse the viewer into the scene…
The ending was abrupt: there was no resolution and the feeling of unease and upset remained as we leave the pair. Whistling, howling windy sounds greeted us as we piled into the theatre and play us out, an extremely clever way to really immerse the viewer into the scene, as if they are being invited in to the bitter emotionally fraught home for a mere glimpse of their lives.
Sitting with Thistle is brutal, no doubt. But underlying it all is a love and desperation to move on make amends with the people we love most. These hints of optimism and memories of joy are what hold the play together, as the siblings’ difficult history plays out. All said, Oddflock Theatre Company must be congratulated for a heart-rendering and at times shocking piece of brilliant theatre.