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Jonathan Blakeley - Stitches Interview

Writer and performer Jonathan Blakeley, with support from Arts Council England, brings his brand-new play Stitches to the Hope Theatre in February. Told from the unique perspective of a teddy bear, this emotive and wistful play examines how a relationship changes the older we become, and the fight for significance. As we grow and thus become more aware of the world around us and our place in it, the need for things we cherished as a child fade away, only to be replaced by things we consider far more important. But no matter what we do or how we treat them, our childhood best friends are always there for us, especially when we need them most.

The teddy bear has always been there for Chloe, ever since he was purchased by her grandmother, adorned with a red bow, and lovingly placed in her crib. As Chloe experiences life – from her first day at nursery, to sleepovers with friends, first boyfriend, even to university – the teddy bear is there, protecting and comforting. Stitches explores the love we have for one another being tested over the course of time. Though we may feel alone in the challenges we face, the ones who truly love us will always be there until the very end, no matter how small they are.

Stitches is proud to be in conjunction with Alzheimer’s Society and the University of Stirling DSDC (Dementia Services Development Centre). As research has shown how successful the role of art can be in helping link memories, Jonathan will be running storytelling workshops with the society to see if there are other ways that art can unlock memories and moments within themselves. 

Ahead of the run we caught up with Jonathan to discuss the piece in more detail.

Where did you first get the inspiration for the piece? 
A few different places really! One was when up at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018 with my play ‘In Pursuit of Andromeda’ and I noticed how many solo shows were knocking about, so I thought to myself “Seems popular this, I fancy giving that a go”. The other is being drawn to stories that are told from a perspective or world of which we know little to nothing about. Not just because we see life and all that we know of it through a different lens, but because creatively the world is a blank canvas on which the person telling the story can boldly go in whichever direction they feel. If someone writes about a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies for example, as this has never come to be, the scale of creativity is vast and stretches every fibre of the imagination because the world “rules” have never been factually set. This level of creativity I find most exciting and I’m always wanting to dip my toes in these waters. 

Why did you choose to set the piece through a teddy bear? 
The idea of a life perspective from that of a teddy bear is one I think many of us have thought about. We think of these comfort items (whether that be a bear, doll, action figure etc) coming to life when nobody is looking, when we’re out at work or school and even more so when we’re asleep. Essentially they’re our earliest, most trusted companion and with this ‘bear witness’ to all of our private personal moments. So in essence they know us better than anyone else, maybe even more so than ourselves… For me, I wonder what their thoughts and feelings are about the situations we find ourselves in. I wanted to draw on this curiosity and make it a living, thinking and (in the case of the bear in the play) a very much saying it as it is thing. My bear Teddy Bungles (inspired by Rainbow) is still with me today sitting on my bookshelf surround by a sea of plays, novelsand small keepsakes from previous productions I’ve been fortunate to be a part of. 

How much of yourself did you put into the piece? 
There’s what I would consider to be a 50/50 split of myself in the piece. I grew up in Essex and there’s always been this way of “Essexness” in my mind’s eye of not being afraid to speak up for what you see as being right, even more so what you see as being wrong. So the bear definitely has that characteristic about them. Those who know me would probably consider the teddy bear to be somewhat a reflection of myself and the people I grew up around. There’s also references to the world during my childhood years that I think plenty of people will understand and relate to. Things such as what mattered when we were younger, how we connected with those around us and highlighting the important moments of our developmental years. However the child the bear belongs to is a girl, so I had to talk with a lot of friends of mine about their own experiences of growing up and piece all that information together in relation to what I experienced, giving that period of the piece full value. As the story progresses it becomes a lot more inline with a world I recently know more about, the world of Dementia. When I started the physical act of writing the play in 2020, I initially had the story ending with the person the bear belongs to weighing up whether or not to take the bear with them as they’re leaving their family home. However, during the early 2021 Covid Lockdown period my Grandma suddenly caught the virus, was put on oxygen and placed into a comatose state in Southend Hospital. From this, as she awoke and begun her recovery from Covid she was much more forgetful than before. We contacted consultants who ran tests and from this we discovered she’d developed accelerated severe Dementia From this unfortunate incident for my Grandma and our family, the idea came to me that there must be a way to extend the story far beyond that of leaving home. That the story of the bear would naturally continue beyond that point, no matter physically where it may be. Continuing alongside the child being much older and facing the challenges that come towards the end of their own story, that challenge being the one my Grandma is now facing herself. 

How did you approach bringing your style to the piece? 
I’ve never really thought of myself as having a style, but I guess not being afraid to be honest in myself and with others, all whilst maintaining the love I have of the fantasy world of which we know nothing about, mixing it with our own. I’m like it with my writing in the sense that I write exactly the way I speak, grammatical errors and all. I even do it when emailing, job applications or in interviews, as I find this to be the clearest way to communicate the point I’m trying to make and in my own voice. I find this is what makes for catchy dialogue and vibrant characters, something I feel is a strength of my writing as a whole. Even though the story is from the perspective of a teddy bear, that doesn’t mean to say the bear wouldn’t think or speak in a human manner. Their world is engrained within our own, so to me a teddy bear would naturally converse in that way. I guess, in short, my style is punchy dialogue that takes no prisoners, leaving no-one left behind. The bear will say it as it is. 

What has been the biggest challenge when developing the production? 
Trying to make it all make sense within the form a solo show! It took me a long time to finally get started on the physical act of writing the play. I felt I couldn’t do this without fully understanding how the play lives and breathes. It’s my first time writing one, so I made sure to read a ton of solo pieces to not only get inspiration, but to try and understand the structure, rhythm and voice of those plays, more importantly how they made it work for one actor slap bang in the middle of it all. Plays such as, to name a few, Captain Amazing (Alistair McDowell), Dust (Milly Thomas) and Death of England (Roy Williams) were all totally different, yet with that incredibly helpful to remind me that the best way for me to communicate the play I want to write, is my own way. 

You’ve been working alongside Alzheimer’s Society and University of Stirling DSDC, how has that relationship helped developing the piece? 
When I decided to change the direction the story goes in it became imperative to me that I fully understood the world of Dementia, not just for the person living with the condition but more-so for those who love and care for them. The University of Stirling DSDC specialise in caring and nursing for those with Dementia, so I knew that speaking with them was important before tackling that part of the story. They run classes and workshops for nurses and families who come together to share their own experiences and ideas on how to care for their patients and loved ones. Seeing as the piece is very reflective through the eyes of someone who loves the person with the condition, I knew it would be vital to reach out to them. Gayle Henry and her team at the DSDC were wonderfully giving with their time and information about the condition and the impact it has on the person in question and those around them. Alzheimer’s Society too have been incredibly giving with helping me to better understand Dementia in all of it’s many forms. Providing me with plenty of research material and sharing what groups they run and are a part of that would best help. When wanting to find ways in which to help throughout the storytelling and creative workshops I wish to run alongside the play, they have only ever wanted to help push me in the right direction and speak to the right people/groups. Without both of their support and help, I wouldn’t feel as confident or comfortable about approaching the subject matter and bringing it to stage. 

How important is it to be running the storytelling workshops that you’ll be running alongside the production? 
Seeing the impact that art therapy can have on those with Dementia fills me with hope and belief that the workshops I’ll be running can deliver both a positive and wholesome impact for those in attendance. They will be open to those with the condition and those who care for them, whether that be a loved one or carer. It’s important to me that the workshop is inclusive of everyone involved, so as to keep that connection alive at all times. If what they create can unlock a moment of re-connection and clarity within themselves and their loved ones, even if it’s for the briefest of moments, then it’ll all be worth it and proof that art truly is what reveals our soul to the world. 

What keeps you inspired? 
The seemingly little things that make a big difference in everyday life is what inspires me. When seeking inspiration for a play in its early stages of development, I like to make a mood board so that it reminds me of the important themes of the play if I ever get stuck. One of the images that spoke to me the most was one of the later images I added to the mood board for Stitches that came during my re-drafting of the play, when the Russian invasion of Ukraine took place in 2022. It was an image of families leaving their home in search of safety and in the image were Mothers holding the hands of their children and in the hands of their children…teddy bears. It made me wholly aware of the significance the bears had in keeping those children filled with a sense of comfort and safety, despite everything that was happening around them. 

What do you hope an audience member takes away from seeing Stitches
A few relatable laughs. A few reflective grimaces. And even though we may sometimes feel we’re alone in the challenges we face, the ones who truly love us will always be there, no matter how small they are… That and the need to run home and give their bear a big hug.

Stitches runs at Hope Theatre from Tuesday 20th February until Saturday 9th March. Tickets are available from

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