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Winding String

Flyer for Winding String Winding String by Janet Paisley

A powerful and witty drama about a family bound together by a dark secret from their past.

First Production

Mica Theatre Company at the Battersea Arts Centre 7 April - 1 May 1999

Cast: Theresa McElroy - Illona Linthwaite - Annie Tyson
Director: Barbara Houseman
Designer: Margarete Forsyth - Vicky Emptage
Artistic Director of the Mica Theatre Company: Illona Linthwaite

The Play

Three women unravel their lives and reveal the explosive chaos that lies beneath. In an attic full of boxes stuffed with life's leftovers, successful lawyer Joanne tells her mother and her aunt, who is seething about her husband's infidelity, that her uncle abused her.

Paisley's play Refuge won the 1996 £50,000 Peggy Ramsay Memorial Award.

You don't win this award for nothing. The characterisations are too rich to be written as types, the dialogue too salty and downright funny at times to be dismissed as formula - The Guardian


Winding String packs real characters and real emotions into an hour of compelling theatre… a powerfully written exploration of child abuse and familial relationships… What's On in London - Douglas McPherson

…a tightly structured, powerfully written piece about mother-daughter relationships and child abuse… Time Out - Charles Godfrey-Fausell

Winding String deals movingly and sensitively with child abuse and the mutual responsibility that parents and children share… Evening Standard - Nick Curtis


<box 80% round prose | Extract: Winding String> A loft stacked with the debris of 60 years of living. The hatch, hinged open, has a bolt. Late afternoon light filters through the skylight. Grace sits on an old piano stool with a large ball of yellow string. A long length has unravelled from the hole in the centre and she is painstakingly winding it back into the middle, humming Devil Moon as she does so.


JOANNE: I suppose it’s up here somewhere.

GRACE: What?

JOANNE: The fast boil kettle. Birthday presents are wasted on you.

GRACE: Christmas.

JOANNE: By the time you get a cup of tea round here, it will be.(PUTS MUG BESIDE GRACE) Two sugar.

GRACE: I don’t take sugar.

JOANNE: For the shock. Brandy would’ve been better but I couldn’t find any.


GRACE: It’s under the sink. And I’m not shocked.

JOANNE: Well I am. What’s it doing under the sink?

GRACE: Habit. Look, I know it takes a bit of getting used to.

JOANNE: A lot of getting used to. Brandy under the sink? Go on, drink your tea. I need to feel I’ve done something useful. Won my case today. Did I tell you? That’s three in a row. Same magistrate, John Allingham, every time.

GRACE: Joanne, you did hear what I said?

JOANNE: Thought I’d blown it, too. He kept interrupting.

GRACE: Did you understand?

JOANNE: Counsel, he said. If you say something once, I hear it. If you say it twice, I think you’re trying to convince me. If you say it three times, I think you’re trying to convince yourself.

GRACE: We need to talk about it.

JOANNE: Sentencing tomorrow. I’m asking for the maximum. The previous this guy’s got is unbelievable.

GRACE: Joanne! Did you hear me?

JOANNE: Yes! Yes, I heard you. And, no, I don’t understand. How can we talk about it? I don’t know what to say.

GRACE: It wasn’t easy telling you.

JOANNE: I know, mum. I’m sorry.

GRACE: I meant to pick the right moment.

JOANNE: Oh, that was a pretty good moment, soon as I popped my head through the hatch.

GRACE: Sorry about that.

JOANNE: I’ve never been very steady on those steps, that’s all.

GRACE: Words are strange things. They just pop out when you least expect them to, quite baldly. No chance to dress them up.

JOANNE: Some things can’t be dressed up. You know, if I sort this stuff into what’s worth keeping and what isn’t, maybe you will actually throw some of it out.

GRACE: It won’t go away if you ignore it, Joanne.

JOANNE: All you have to do is shut your eyes and don’t rake in the boxes, right?

GRACE: I spent ages rehearsing how to tell you, trying to work out what I’d say.

JOANNE: Ages? How long is that?

GRACE: Not long.

JOANNE: How long?

GRACE: Three weeks, give or take.

JOANNE: Three weeks! You waited three weeks?

GRACE: You’ve been busy.

JOANNE: Oh no, not the guilt trip. You only had to pick up the phone.

GRACE: Hardly.

JOANNE: I would’ve come straight round.

GRACE: On the phone?

JOANNE: You could’ve said it was urgent, asked me to come over. (HAULS BROCHURES FROM BOX) For goodness sake, mum. What’re you doing with all this double glazing stuff? You are double glazed.

GRACE: They phone, regularly. I hate to disappoint them.

JOANNE: (THROWS BROCHURES BACK IN BOX) You know, you’re not a mother. You’re a squirrel masquerading as one. I should come over more often. Oh, I knew we’d catch up. Thought we would. And we will. I’m not letting you out of my sight any longer than necessary from now on.

GRACE: I don’t mind. Your life’s your own.

JOANNE: Yeh, and look what happens when my back’s turned. Anyway, I like spending time with you. Things get in the way, that’s all.

GRACE: Well, we’re both busy. I haven’t stopped still since I retired.

JOANNE: I’ll say. (FINDS MORE BROCHURES) Holiday brochures! Oh, hey, that’s an idea. We could have a holiday. What d’you think? Skiing? You’ve never done skiing. We could fly out next weekend, if you want to. Aspen. No, somewhere less touristy. Dachstein, in the Alps. The lake’s like a mirror, and there’s a forest of tall Russian pine wedged into the white edge of the mountains. The snow is powder dry and the air so clean it squeaks as you scythe through it.

GRACE: You’re wasted on the law, you know.

JOANNE: Oh, come on, mum. Think about it. You and me. Log cabin at the hotel, log fires, cren, steaming hot spatzle, schnapps.

GRACE: You didn’t hear what I said at all, did you?

JOANNE: We could go for a fortnight. A month, if you like. Just the two of us. Some catching up time. While you’re… Before… Oh, drink your tea before it goes cold. And what are you doing up here? Of all places. You should be resting. Lying down.

GRACE: Lying down? You had me skiing a second ago. I feel fine.

JOANNE: But you’re not fine, are you? That’s why you’re up here, piddling around in yesterday. You could just cut that off, throw it away. I mean, look at all this stuff. Buttons, elastic bands, safety pins, fuse wire. Fuse wire, for god’s sake. Clothes pegs. Who hangs clothes out anymore? And string. String, string, and more string. There’s enough string here to tie Bill Clinton in knots.

GRACE: I know, if I lived to be a hundred…

JOANNE: (CUTTING IN) You’ll never use it all.

GRACE: Most of this stuff could go out. I just can’t quite do it. I keep thinking, soon as I do, I’m bound to need it.

JOANNE: What about someplace hot. Palm trees. White sand. You’d like that. We could surf.

GRACE: Strange, isn’t it. How important things become soon as you imagine them not being there.

JOANNE: Scuba dive, then.

GRACE: Joanne, will you stop?

JOANNE: It’s heartbreaking, that’s what it is. Why? Why now? And why tell me here? Surrounded by junk.

GRACE: I was tidying. You arrived.

JOANNE: So I can’t persuade you to jump the first plane to Barbados then?

GRACE: No. Is that what you want to do?

JOANNE: You bet. Look, cut that, roll it up and add it to this mountain if you must. Winding it back into the middle. What a waste of time.

GRACE: It’s my time to waste.

JOANNE: No, it’s not. Not anymore.

GRACE: Oh, come on, Joanne. It’s not that bad.

JOANNE: No? How soon? A year? Six months? Sooner?

GRACE: Sooner.


GRACE: I’m not dying, Joanne. I’m just getting married. </box>

winding_string.txt · Last modified: 2013/06/16 14:22 (external edit)