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Edinburgh Fringe 2015

An Illuminating Yarn

Button Box Theatre

Genre: Drama

Venue: The Space on the Mile


Low Down

A mysterious series of knitted dolls have been appearing along the pier in the northern seaside town of Saltburn. It’s late and after a few drinks at the local, Clare has brought her friend Nina along to have a look, in an attempt to cheer her up from her redundancy-fuelled despondency. However, after tonight knitted dolls won’t be the only thing the locals of Saltburn will be talking about.


Inspired by the real Saltburn-by-the-Sea yarn bombers, An Illuminating Yarn features  a cast of  much loved British icons and a bit of a mystery. Who is doing the bombing?

The town of Saltburn is agog with the question of who has decorated the town’s pier (it won an award in 2009 but has little else going for it, not even lights) with knitted figures – the Beatles are there, Ant and Dec or it might be Cameron and Osborne and Tom Daley. The long arm of the law in the form of Harry, the Chief Superintendent’s son, is baffled.

Into the mystery come Clare and Nina. Clare wants to cheer Nina up and thinks that a visit to the pier to see the yarn figures will do the trick. Nina is in no mood to be cheered up and would much rather get back to the pub before closing time. Clare does her clumsy best to calm Nina, who is furious with not only her own redundancy but the cuts and the state of the world in general. The tension rises until Clare accuses Nina of stealing Tom Daley and things threaten to get out of hand.

This is a first play by Jane Pickthall written when she attended the writers group at Live Theatre (Newcastle upon Tyne). It is warm, funny, and delivers a satisfying twist. The characters are believable and well rounded. Whilst it is a light hearted comedy on the surface it also hints at the darker side of life at a time when so many are affected in different ways by cuts to local services. Altogether a very accomplished piece of writing in a first play – with plenty of the kind of sharp wit that I always associate with the North East – I liked the reference to Deadly Knitshade, for example.

The performances from all three actors are strong with a nice sense of the tension in the relationship between Clare (Hannah Walker) and Nina (Jill Dellow). The relationship between the two women is sparky from the start and the pace never drops as they build towards the climax. Harry, the Community Support Officer (Matt Howden) provides a nicely bewildered counterpoint to their acerbic exchanges.

The set would be extremely simple were it not for the twenty odd knitted figures produced by an army of volunteers and mounted on the railings of the pier. As well as the recognisable figures there is… well, you need to go and see for yourself really.

The play opens with a voice over radio report of the yarn storming with several different local people interviewed. It is perhaps a little long as we get the sense of the starting point for the story very quickly but are left looking at an empty stage wondering when the action will start. The closing moments also feel a little uncertain as well, as though the director had several approaches in mind and hasn’t quite settled firmly enough on any one of them. However, those are small points and do not detract from the strength of the acting or the script.

Overall,  it is an excellent short play and well worth adding to your schedule.