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RABBLE Theatre

Rabble Theatre

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Reading University's Minghella Theatre

Reviews of Glitch

27th June to 6th July 2024

Review from the Daily Telegraph.

Powerful response to a national disgrace

four stars
The success of the ITV miniseries Mr Bates vs The Post Office in raising public awareness, and anger, about the Post Office/ Horizon IT scandal – in which hundreds of sub-postmasters were persecuted and prosecuted for actions that flowed from systemic computer failures - was a reminder of the power of TV drama. It highlighted, too, the curious sluggishness of our major theatres, which have thus far ignored a national disgrace.

Given the lasting damage done, that the public inquiry is ongoing, and a criminal inquiry is in motion, there remains scope for the stage to be the locus for trenchant concern. And there has already been a laudable response at a grassroots level: False Accounts, a dark comedy, toured in 2022, while Make Good: The Post Office Scandal, a musical, will tour in the autumn.

In the interim comes Glitch, a valuable contribution by the enterprising Reading-based company Rabble. Though the aim is to take it on the road too, the play (by Zannah Kearns, with dramaturgy by Beth Flintoff) is premiering at the University of Reading, a short drive from its primary setting: the Berkshire village of Barkham. Here, Pam Stubbs, a widow, went through a Kafka-esque nightmare as she grappled with technology that wasn’t up to the task, and an organisation in denial. 

Her book-keeping would serve as key evidence that the Horizon system created phantom deficits (she was alleged to be some £28,000 in the red). Those who watched the TV drama (in which she was played by Lesley Nicol) may recognise some of the indignant replies she gave in court during the successful legal action launched on behalf of 555 claimants by the recently knighted Alan Bates (very briefly incarnated by Fayez Bakhsh).

Kearns has used a welter of material, including court transcripts, to give a sense of the unfolding saga, also including testimonies evoking the horrendous experiences of Tracy Felstead, who ended up in prison and Martin Griffiths, who was driven to suicide by the impossible pressures. With so much in the public domain (Nick Wallis’s invaluable best-seller included), what the piece provides most crucially is the chance to bear witness to the pitiful hounding of an ordinary, diligent pillar of the community at close quarters. Stubbs’ innocuous communal hub becomes a species of dementing prison; she’s repeatedly told that she is alone in facing issues.

Elizabeth Elvin’s Pam is initially warm and gossipy but mountingly fretful. Gemma Colclough and Gareth Taylor’s co-directed production uses frantic typing sounds, buzzing noises and associated lighting flickers to stoke a sense of glitchy palpitation. “I need a technician – how many ways can I say this?” she pleads, noting the irony that Fujitsu, the system’s software engineers, are nearby in Bracknell. When the auditors finally come down on her like a ton of bricks, she is first distressed then determined, refusing to go quietly: an everywoman who discovers her fighting-spirit.


Review from The Guardian.

Dynamically delivered drama

three stars
A stage set of a small Post Office branch might once have heralded a comedy of rural life or a romcom where a couple meet while sending love letters to others. Now, though, it portends a tragedy, the digital till on the counter a primed explosive.

Commissioned by the University of Reading’s law department and produced by inventive company Rabble Theatre, Zannah Kearns’s Glitch was written before Gwyneth Hughes’s gamechanging ITV four-parter Mr Bates vs The Post Office won publicity and the prospect of proper recompense for more than 700 subpostmasters falsely accused of fraud.

This means that the audience is well ahead of the characters for the first section of Glitch, which dramatises the story of widowed branch manager Pam Stubbs – a real-life victim from Berkshire – as she struggles with a till that seems to be possessed by an innumerate devil and Post Office bosses who seem more interested in wrecking her than helping her. These revelations are now reigniting rather than revelatory.

But the show sensibly makes fresher tracks, with Stubbs, a minor character in the ITV drama, maximised here. It explores her emotional backstory and how the paper-and-pencil note making for which she was denigrated by some became a crucial factor in exposing the scandal. This perspective makes Glitch a distinctive and original piece.

For budgetary but also artistic reasons, directors Gemma Colclough and Gareth Taylor eschew TV documentary realism for a more impressionistic, choreographic take. The cast – Fayez Bakhsh, Elizabeth Elvin, Sabina Netherclift, Laura Penneycard – switch without confusion from victims to villains, witnesses to lawyers, changing role by gestures as simple as a wedding ring removed or restored. Caitlin Abbott’s set – wooden boxes restacked or reversed to become shop, court, church hall, jail – should be taught at university as an example of theatrical economy.

Like the TV series, the play ends with Lord Justice Fraser’s 2019 judgment on the unreliability of the Horizon system and the questionability of Post Office evidence. With ITV ruling out a further drama, Kearns and Rabble seem well placed to fictionalise the ongoing public inquiry, perhaps with this superb quartet of actors alternating the tragic-comic evidence of former supremo Paula Vennells


Review from Newbury Theatre.

Long before this year’s ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, Elizabeth Conaghan from the University of Reading had started work on what would become Rabble Theatre’s Glitch. This is the story of Barkham sub-postmaster Pam Stubbs and her struggles with the Post Office and Fujitsu’s Horizon system.

The cast of four was headed by Elizabeth Elvin as Pam, who with her husband bought Barkham Post Office, taking over the running of it in 1999 after her husband’s death. Things started to go wrong in 2009 when discrepancies started appearing, starting with a £2000 charge for a book of stamps and leading to a £35,000 debt.

Pam wasn’t going to give up and decides to keep a complete paper record of all transactions alongside the computer record. Despite asking for help from the Post Office which was useless (“nobody else has complained”) they eventually send in an auditor who closes the Post Office owing £28,000.

She joins the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance and meets Alan Bates. The scene changes to the courtroom where the two of them give evidence, helped by Pam’s meticulous paper records.

The other actors – Laura Penneycard, Sabina Netherclift and Fayez Bakhsh – play many parts: shop assistant, customers, subpostmaster, PO auditor, Fujitsu engineer, barrister, judge, Alan Bates, … with impressively quick changes of costume.

The acting is faultless. Pam comes across as a strong character, at times almost overcome by the multitude of woes that beset her, but giving as good as she gets in the witness box against the barrister. Penneycard plays Nora, the assistant in the Post Office, as a fair-weather friend who gets her comeuppance in the end. She also gives a moving portrayal of another subpostmistress who gets a prison sentence. Netherclift is on top form as the barrister and Bakhsh gives Pam strong support as Alan Bates.

It’s hard to imagine how awful it must have been for the subpostmasters. Without the knowledge that they were not alone, and with their customers believing – albeit reluctantly – that they were crooks, they seemed to be in a hopeless position. Hanna Kearns, the writer, has brought this dramatically to life showing how the determination of Alan Bates and Pam Stubbs has exposed the lies and deceit of the Post Office and Fujitsu. And of course it’s not all over. Many are still waiting for compensation.

Designer Caitlin Abbott produced a simple but effective set that allowed quick changes between Post Office, village hall and courtroom. Co-directors Gemma Colclough and Gareth Taylor achieved a fast pace with clear distinctions of the various characters.

A very impressive and moving production. After its run at Reading, Rabble are hoping to tour it around the country, substituting local subpostmasters for Pam.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Glitch strikes at heart of Post Office scandal

The fight for justice

Reading’s Rabble Theatre cuts through the noise to get to the heart of one of the worst legal scandals in British history.

A full house watched Glitch on July 4 at Reading University’s Minghella Theatre, produced in association with the University’s School of Law.

Glitch is a powerful account of human suffering and perseverance in the face of corporate corruption. It tells the true story of Pamela Stubbs, who suffered years of harassment after being targeted in the Post Office scandal.

Pam bought Barkham Post Office in 1987 and took over running the branch in 1999, the day after her husband died from cancer. But her real problems began in 2009 after her Horizon computer system began producing shortfalls amounting to £28,000. But “if there’s one thing I do, it’s fight to the death,” says Elizabeth Elvin’s stubborn yet personable Pam Stubbs. And fight she did. Pam cleared her name, but she almost lost everything.

Glitch’s minimalist sets collaborate with haunting sound design and lighting to turn Pam’s familiar village stores and post office into a Kafkaesque nightmare. The performances were captivating, the scene transitions seamless.

The strain of the false accusations levelled against Pam and being shunned by her community, forcing her to resign as a district councillor, takes its toll. The parcels stack high and paperwork is scattered everywhere as Pam hopelessly tries to explain the ‘missing’ money.

In a cruel irony, the answers she needed were only 20 minutes away at Fujitsu’s Bracknell headquarters – the multinational corporation behind the faulty IT system.

Her story is interspersed with monologues by other affected subpostmasters, and the cast does a convincing job of alternating between a host of real-life figures, including campaigner Alan Bates.

Pam’s story, as told by writer Zannah Kearns and directors Gemma Colclough and Gareth Taylor, asks viewers to consider the human cost of a world dominated by profit margins.

Many other subpostmasters are still fighting for justice.


There are reviews from West End Best Friend ("relevant and important... a powerful, emotional and fascinating 75-minute story" - ★★★★★), ("This worthwhile and involving play certainly deserves a much wider showing" - ★★★★).

Previous productions