Lights Up: Sitting (4 stars)

Lights Up: Sitting

Amusing and melancholic theatrical hour about three people pouring out their hearts to a silent portrait painter

Three people (two females, one male) separately visit an artist in his studio and sit for their portrait. Mary is a woman with a difficult family past and was once mistaken in a queue for Meat Loaf. Cassandra is a young woman who 'enjoys sex' but seems to love Jaffa Cakes more. And Luke is soon to be a new father but can barely look at his wife these days (the feeling may well be mutual). Their host remains aloof, silent and set back, with the trio addressing the artist straight down the camera.

Katherine Parkinson stars as Mary in this TV adaptation of her debut play which successfully premiered at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe as part of a new playwriting strand which also featured a less well-reviewed piece by Frank Skinner (in this instance, 'new' clearly didn't stand in for 'unknown'). While she stayed very much behind the scenes in 2018, Parkinson delivers her own lines here with a delicate balance where comedy nudges up against melancholy. Indeed, all three stories veer from the amusing to the maudlin, with the screen occasionally splitting to often accommodate two characters and sometimes all three, dialogue overlapping or being left meaningfully unspoken.

Both Mark Weinman as Luke, and Alex Jarrett as Cassandra are equally as adept at picking out the amusing segments which clash against the more emotional sections, and while you have a certain sense of where all this is headed, the exact destination is kept reasonably well hidden until the revelatory finale. Sitting may have begun as part of a new live drama programme, but has now fitted rather neatly into the BBC's theatre-on-TV umbrella Lights Up. This play about three people who never meet makes for a moving and mirthful hour that respects social distancing (if not social niceties) to a tee.

BBC Four, Wednesday 7 April, 10.30pm.

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