Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Jonathan Blakeley: Stitches

By | Published on Friday 9 February 2024

Coming up soon at the Hope Theatre is a solo show that really piqued my interest, partly because it addresses themes that I like to see addressed, but also because of the way the tale is told: it’s the story of a life, but seen from the perspective of a toy.

The creative behind it is Jonathan Blakeley, who wrote and performs the play. I arranged a chat to find out more about him and, of course, what to expect from the show. 

CM: Can you start by telling us about the narrative of ‘Stitches’? What story does it tell?
JB: ‘Stitches’ is a dramedy that explores the life story of a person named Chloe through the lens of her teddy bear. Looking at how the journey of their relationship – from birth, through to later years and all the bits in between – shifts and changes throughout the various stages of her life.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
JB: There’s a variety of themes within the play. Most notably in the first half of the story, the theme of female development and place in an ever-changing world; how we prioritise what’s best for us as we get older, understanding ourselves more and the world around us.

In the second half of the story the theme turns to how we love and care for those with dementia, when a disconnection is happening all around them and how we fight to form a reconnection against the inevitably ticking clock.

CM: What made you want to create a work about these themes?
JB: I’ve always been fascinated and quite honestly appalled at how women are viewed in everyday society, especially compared to men. It all feels so much more pressurised and labelling.

To explore these viewpoints from a stage perspective is an itch that needed scratching; more so when speaking with female friends of mine about their own childhood and development. 

The dementia theme came later on in the planning process when my grandma was diagnosed with the condition. From that point the story became something else and went on a continuation from where it was originally going to end.

Again, it’s a subject matter that has both fascinated and terrified me. I wanted to find a way to comfort those who face the condition, and let those who love and care for them be seen.

CM: What made you decide to tell this story from the perspective of a teddy bear? What does it add to the narrative?
JB: I love stories told from the perspective of that from which we know little to nothing about.

The scale of creativity is never ending because the world rules aren’t factually set in stone, it can be taken in any direction and take any form.

The vast majority of us have had a comfort toy of one way or another in our lives. They’re our earliest friend and confidant who want nothing but the best for us, yet see us in our most private and personal of moments.

I think our world to them must be a needlessly complex place because let’s face it… it really is!

CM: You perform the piece as well as being its creator. Did you always plan to perform it?
JB: I did, yeah! However, with the way in which I’ve written the bear, I feel that the character can be played by anyone and everyone. There’s no name, gender, colour, age, height etc, keeping the bear as neutral as possible.

I also want the bear to become whatever the audience feel it means to them, giving them that sense of ownership when watching the piece.

CM: What’s it like working one-to-one with a director, and does the fact that you’re the writer of the play have an impact on the way you work together?
JB: I can’t think of any better process than working directly with the director as you get to work it all out together, building the story brick-by-brick. The famous saying ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ is one I try and adhere to, so it’s the perfect working condition for me!

As a writer you need to be very open to the interpretation of what it is that you write. If you’re not that way inclined then I don’t think writing is for you!

When speaking with the director Samantha Pears – and all the creative team for the matter – about coming onboard, I said, “As a writer I’ve simply created a skeleton. It’s up to all of us collectively to flesh it out and make it come alive”.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, now? How did you come to be working in the arts? Was it what you always wanted to do?
JB: I graduated from the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts in 2010, so I’ve been professional since then. I moved back to the UK in 2011 and have been working over this side of the pond ever since.

It certainly wasn’t something I wanted to do from a younger age though, which is quite a rarity I’ve come to realise! I love theatre and film but my greatest love I would have to say is football.

I always wanted to find a career in football when I was in school, in particular sports broadcasting and live football commentary. Which in a way is storytelling isn’t it? I feel I give the best version of myself when on my feet and creating something physical.

CM: What have been the highlights of your working life so far?
JB: I think making my West End debut in 2018 in ‘The Mousetrap’ is what I’d consider a real highlight moment for me.

Mostly due to the fact that when I auditioned for RADA way back in 2006, the two old men behind the table asked me what my parents did for work and said “Have you ever thought about that as a profession instead?”

One thing about me is that I’ve never been an ‘A-Grade Student’. I’ve constantly had to work hard to prove my worth to people, a lot of the time without them noticing.

So before getting ready to go on that stage for the first time in ‘The Mousetrap’, I thought about the two men at that RADA audition and thanked them for giving me the hunger to show to those who doubt me that they can’t break me down.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
JB: I’d love for this play to continue after its run at The Hope Theatre, whether that be a transfer at a later date to another London venue, or even more ambitious taking it to NYC, back to the city where I studied and where it really all began for me.

It’s always been a dream of mine to perform in something that starts here and ends over there. That would be an amazing achievement to pat my back on many years down the line.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
JB: In terms of acting/writing work? Jury’s out at the moment. In terms of my life? Feet up, on a beach, with a beer in my hand and the sun on my face.

‘Stitches’ is on at the Hope Theatre from 20 Feb-9 Mar. For more information and to book tickets, head to the venue website here.  

LINKS: | |