Hoarding is a subject we seem to know very little about, despite a sea of programmes poking at the stacks of single-use plastics and single shoes piling up in people’s homes. But Stuff at Birmingham REP does a far better job of getting to the heart of the issue than turgid reality shows, with charming humour and humanity.
Stuff sees Anna, an older woman living between piled boxes and mounds of clutter, struggle to let go of all the stuff she has ‘collected.’ Despite the weight of the subject matter the production has a penetrating levity and wit that makes it all the more human. Devised and performed by Janice Connolly and Michael Crouch, respectively playing Anna and the different objects she cannot let go of, and directed by Daniel Bailey, Stuff highlights the isolation and anxiety of hoarding while encouraging us to remember that Anna is still a person, with history and life, and a fantastic sense of humour. The play perfectly balances light and dark, matching its easy humour by showing an understanding of and respect for hoarding and those who are trying to escape it.
It’s the humanity of Stuff that features throughout, whether in Anna’s offhand one-liners, or in Michael Crouch’s mesmerising puppetry, bringing life to what seems like rubbish (including an unexpectedly moving monologue from a plastic bag.) There is never a moment you don’t think this could easily be someone you know, a neighbour, a friend, or you. The team of seemingly unimportant objects, and Anna’s relationships to them, remind us that sometimes it isn’t just ‘stuff’ but a part of our lives, our history, and our memory. To throw them away is to throw that away too.
Stuff is short and sweet, but I could’ve watched another hour of it. Connolly is a sparkling wit and Crouch’s puppetry is a wonder, together they are a delight to watch. Stuff will leave you thinking differently about hoarding, and maybe make you want to start filling bin bags when you get home.