Free speech is a right fiercely protected in today’s society. To deny someone a voice is to deny them a fundamental part of their existence. Yet this inalienable right to speak is balanced by the need to take care what you say, especially when one word out of turn can dog you forever.
In a world where perception is nine-tenths of the law, Sticks and Stones gives us language to discuss the gulf between what is honest, what is true and what is right
This is the plight of B, our brash but decent protagonist, when she lets slip an ill-judged joke in a client meeting. With one word she finds her life spiralling out of control, stuck between the token political correctness of her bosses and the unrepentant ‘straight talk’ of some of her colleagues. With every nudge she attempts to put herself on the right track, but only ends up dragging her reputation even further through the mud.
The Paines Plough cast of Katherine Pearce, Jack Wilkinson and Charlotte O’ Leary tell the tale with breathless physicality, their catapulting around the stage mirroring the pillar-to-post pull of B’s struggle to put herself on the ‘right’ side of the issues in front of her.
Though at times a little wearing, this loud, frantic staging is an extremely good way of punctuating the almost-physical threats underlying each of B’s confrontations. Compliance is forced through insistent sound and light cues and the emphasis on the performers’ postures allow them to effectively say one thing whilst communicating something very different. Special mention here has to go to O’ Leary’s energetic, gurning portrayal of the internal awkwardness we all feel when watching someone constantly digging themselves deeper and deeper. Pearce is excellent as B, constantly searching for the right way to show that’s she’s not a bigot without also making herself a hypocrite. And while she provides our consistent thread through the narrative, Wilkinson and O’ Leary carry the rest of the roles, bringing distinctive characterisation to each. Wilkinson is particularly effective as the Essex boy office pariah, seemingly B’s only ally but whose Maldon-Mephistophelian invitations to speak her mind may carry far darker motivations than at first apparent.
Though it ultimately doesn’t offer answers to all the questions it poses, Sticks and Stones deftly walks its tightrope through a complex and sensitive issue. If not entirely even-handed, it still gives time and space to discussing less PC viewpoints and trying to understand the motivations of the people that hold them. In a world where perception is nine-tenths of the law, Sticks and Stones gives us language to discuss the gulf between what is honest, what is true and what is right, and a starting point to try to bridge the three.