ITV drama Sticks and Stones tied knots in your stomach, but ended up losing the thread

There was one scene in Doctor Foster, that BBC drama hit of a couple of years ago, which really stood out – around a dinner table, family secrets were revealed and you weren’t entirely sure it wouldn’t all descend into an orgy of violence.

By Phil Cunnington
Friday, 20th December 2019, 5:00 pm
Ken Nwosu starred in new drama Sticks and Stones
Ken Nwosu starred in new drama Sticks and Stones

The man who wrote that scene – Mike Bartlett – was at it again this week in Sticks and Stones (ITV, Mon-Weds, 9pm), although with one or two differences.

Boardroom tables and office cubicles replace the dinner table, while workplace dynamics are substituted for a family being torn apart.

What hasn’t changed, though, is the way Bartlett successfully ties your stomach in knots as you wait for the explosion.

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A tale of workplace bullying, you were never quite sure if middle manager Thomas’s suspicions that his workmates were setting him up for redundancy were real, or paranoid fantasies.

However, the scenes where Thomas (Ken Nwosu) was told he was ‘chunky’, or quizzed about his daughter’s disability, were at times excruciatingly uncomfortable viewing.

Where it lost its way, though, was when the drama left the office for the wider world. There were too many coincidences, too many outlandish contrivances, and rather too much ‘fiendish plotting’ to quite hang together.

And the conclusion was much too neat, signposted from about 15 minutes out. After all the clench-inducing scenes in the office, it seemed an anti-climax to have everything wrapped up in a big bow.

That’s why Doctor Foster is the better show –it recognised that life was messy, and left certain threads hanging.

In the end, Sticks and Stones didn’t leave you hurting, and was poorer for it.

It isn’t even Christmas, and already I’m stuffed – not from too much turkey, from too many Greggs. Wallace is in every other programme, gurning and wa-heying. An ideal gift? No Gregg.

Jamie’s Easy Christmas Countdown (Channel 4, Sunday, 8pm) was only easy if you have lots of time and space. And stop calling it the big day. It’s a roast dinner, not a wedding.