Love the Sinner

Written and Performed by Imogen Stirling

Directed by Matthew Lenton

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Envy, Lust, Wrath, Avarice, Gluttony, Sloth, and Pride.

Archaic vices, relics of a Christian device of control – or something altogether more benign?

Initially conceived and eventually published by Verve Press as Stirling’s second poetry collection, Love the Sinner draws the seven vices of classical theology kicking and screaming into the grey, weariness of contemporary Glasgow (or at least a very convincing stand-in), crafting a world where metamorphosis sits heavily on the chest: destruction, chaos, and even a hint of beauty all waiting for a moment to emerge.

We had the fortune of hearing brief extracts of Stirling’s more direct spoken word abilities with the Loud Poets back in 2022 at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. And the decision to shift the original commissioned production from a spoken word show into a full-blown theatrical experience of poetic vision and rallying is a welcomed masterstroke from director Matthew Lenton, who places their faith entirely in Stirling’s words and capable hands.

There are undeniable sparks of recognition with Stirling’s central performance as Sloth, a young woman in the doldrums of apathy and endless doom scrolling in her high-rise flat. It’s a significant and far more appropriate response to the sin than its classical lackadaisical visage. Hardly leaving their room, save for this one social occasion, the nihilistic exhaustion of the world around them is hard to miss as the world and lives below explode for one final coup de grâce against their aggressions before the impending apocalypse engulfs them.

But maybe there’s hope. Maybe something can change the fate of the world. And just perhaps it’s located in these seven divisive sins which many have long attempted to keep shut out from mortal temptation. From the continuous self-confidence shots Envy gives themselves with social media masks, to Greed’s exclusion of their family in favour of trinkets and executive life, the sins have had a contemporary re-imagining. Particularly noteworthy are Stirling’s conjured creations of Lust’s unsolicited photographs and advances, and more crucially Wrath, a young woman raging against the patriarchy, who may have the spark of change about them.

And although there may be some criticisms of the character’s appeal and likeability, Stirling does a remarkable job in crafting out truly mortal representations of centuries-old ‘villains’ into the most unlikely of saviours. For any who have witnessed their control of the art of spoken word, Stirling embodies their craft – every wit-pointed word imparted with a sense of self and purpose in their delivery. The amount of character and eloquent structure to Stirling’s work is captured within a strict 70-minute timeframe for the Vanishing Point production, Love the Sinner sweeps across the tarnished remnants of new generations’ prospects with range and authority, shifting the vision into a sliver of light amidst the greyness.

A remarkably complimentary piece, Sarah Carton’s score is the perfect foundation for the live music performance from Sonia Killman, which lifts the score into new realms – weaving together a wonderful medley for Mark Melville’s sound design that fully ‘gets’ the intention behind Stirling’s words and performance, never overshadowing, never relegated to the back. Visually, the neon-lined set stands out against the illusionary dark cityscape and endless plumes of smog, Alisa Kalyanova’s set a perfect frame for Stirling’s central stance – whilst Ellie Thompson’s projections find a strong place in Simon Wilkinson’s lighting design muddle together to breath life into this otherwise desolate space.

The potential impact of Love the Sinner is evident in its ability to see a new horizon amidst the current state of things. Stirling’s writing heralds a new generation of philosophical poetry – think Lucretius but with dick pics. The quality of the words strung into deciphering the labyrinthian experience of a post-COVID world is astonishing, and the mortality, even futility, of it all is both enlightening and a pause of thought. As a collection of poetry, Love the Sinner is an exceedingly strong representation of Stirling’s work – as a piece of fusion theatre, it’s more remarkable in its rummaging around the human condition. 

A New Generation of Philosophical Poetry

Love the Sinner runs at the Traverse Theatre until May 17th. Running time – seventy minutes. Suitable for ages 14+
Tickets from £15 (Con. available) and may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Andy Ross

Written by Danielle Smart


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