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Patchwork Lives
Published on Sunday, 07 July 2013

5 starsReviewed by Richard Stamp
United Reformed Church, Blue Room
6-7 & 12-13 Jul, 7:30pm to 8:30pm

Written by its cast and “the folk of Nottinghamshire”, Arletty Theatre’s Patchwork Lives was always destined to be a rewarding, multi-faceted play. There’s a literal patchwork quilt hanging at the back of the stage, and as you wait for the show to start you might find yourself scanning the dedications written on each square: to “my mum, the leather worker” for example, or simply “my gran”. Each fragment of fabric represents a remembered life… and soon, the homely Quilter and her friend the Ghost step forward to tell these tales.

As Quilter explains, she’s collecting women’s stories, because so much of what’s in history books speaks only of the men.  So Patchwork Lives is a campaigning play, but it’s never a strident one; the women it celebrates range from nautical hero Grace Darling, to the fondly-remembered grandmother whose crowning achievement was her unforgettable quince jam.  In a neat touch, we see a fleeting image of each of these women as her story is re-told, and there’s a playful invention around the use of props which lends the tales immediacy and relevance in the modern day.

Imogen Joyce (as Quilter) and Anna Sanderson (the Ghost) are hugely talented performers, capturing a range of personalities yet invariably underpinning them with their principal characters’ distinctive styles.  There are always quibbles to raise, so I’ll say that I found Sanderson slightly hesitant to begin with, and that the early interplay between Quilter and Ghost bore the merest touch of am-dram panto.  I must also note that this is unashamedly a church-hall production – the whole thing’s done with the house lights on – though the sound and projections were faultless, and there’s no discredit in putting on a show in whatever space you can.

What makes Patchwork Lives so striking, though, is the deeply-involving narrative built around the patchwork tales.  Revealing Quilter’s personal history in well-paced doses, it’s set in a fantastical world where stories have life and a house itself has memory.  There’s a mystery, some humour, a sense of looming heartbreak – and a searing conclusion, rendered all the more devastating by the subtlety with which it’s unveiled.  This play’s not just a correction of history, but an urgent reminder of a very present danger; an uncomfortable truth about the balance of power, from which too many of us too often choose to hide.

Some bold a cappella singing and a perfectly-matched original score by Matt Marks add the final touches to this triumphantly well-constructed production.  In the real world, there is no Quilter to remember us; over time, all our stories will slowly fade away.  But some moments, still, are special… and I think this play may just have the power to stick forever in my mind.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2013.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.