My Sister

Wed 8th – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Lettice Franklin

at 08:53 on 9th Aug 2012

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‘My Sister’ stands out immediately in the whirl of plays which make up a day at the Fringe for offering the most comfortable seating around - deep squashy leather sofas envelop audience members. These were, however, the only comfortable element of this play. One leaves harrowed and drained from this play which deals with sexual abuse, family breakdown, alcoholism, mental disorder, domestic violence, guilt and murder, and includes more than one dramatic plot twist, all within the space of fifty minutes. Before the show I thought it was a bold move to use such nap-provoking furniture but after I had experienced the roller-coaster of emotions I understood there was no need for concern.

The plot hinges upon the conflict between a compulsion to tell one’s dark secrets and the desire to avoid the truth at all costs - even within yourself. However, the play itself should have learnt from this conflict: it reveals dark secret after dark secret, creating an onslaught of trauma. There is a lack of detail and day-to-day occurrence that comes dangerously close to isolating the audience from the characters. Character 'Scarlet' (Amy Conway), at one particularly dramatic moment asks the audience, "doesn’t everyone at some point reach a breaking point like hers"? This emphasis on the universality of her plight is not in sync with the focus on the sisters’ particular hardships. In one rare moment of mundanity, another character, 'Leah' (Jessica Phillippi) confesses her excitement about her art class - more details like these would have made the huge misfortunes discussed even more powerful, and the characters more easy to empathise with.

The play is ambitious not only in subject matter but in style and format. The move from children’s skipping to abused bodies painfully jerking is horrible yet effective, as is the repeated motif of hide and seek. Amy Conway and Jessica Phillippi carry the play between them, its sole actors. Their exhaustion is, by the end, palpable but totally in keeping with the plot, and perhaps further proof of their acting prowess. Amy Conway is particularly good at shifting roles - her drunken father stood out.

The use of the space is impressive. Director Deborah Hannan uses two spaces connected by a large open doorway extremely effectively; the binary structure suits the intense two-way relationship that the play chronicles, the architectural echoes emphasizing similarities and differences between the two sisters. In addition, the gentle seediness of the venue’s decor seemed appropriate to a tale beset by unwanted darkness.

The play, without a doubt, succeeds in bringing this darkness to the light of an Edinburgh day. The Scandal Theatre company’s aims to expose the corruption and evils that lie within our society, and to - as their website states - ‘tell stories that change society for the better’, are admirable and largely achieved with poise and power.

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April Elisabeth Pierce

at 11:02 on 9th Aug 2012

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Scandal Theatre is an acclaimed production company, whose original and provocative work has been heralded as groundbreaking theatre at Fringes past. Unfortunately, “My Sister” was hardly the “gripping piece of physical theatre” it promised to be, despite aesthetically pleasing flyers and an extraordinary venue. While the piece was clearly working with superb material, it yielded bitterly disappointing results.

The Fiddler’s Elbow, a quaint and curious location off the beaten Edinburgh track, was the perfect setting for a visceral, physically emotive show featuring doppelgängers and doublings. The pub’s upstairs space had a haunted opera house appeal, with high walls, molded ceilings, and ancient postcards pasted at random on various surfaces. Split equally into two rooms, the performance made good use of the middle space between the divided audience. Arguments materialized at the the center of the room, while individual narratives unfolded on either side. Attention was centered around the physical linch pin, joining the sisters in the middle. Sadly, the blocking was the only strong point of the afternoon’s spectacle.

“My Sister” was supposed to highlight gut-wrenching traumas: rape, abuse, neglect, and matricide. But because there was no variability in volume or intensity of upheaval, the net effect was burnout. Rapid-fire transitions between friendship and betrayal, with each sister taking on more than one role, could have worked wonders, if there had been careful development of distinct personalities and psychological stakes. Very little distinction was made between the sisters’ personas -- a crucial necessity for the “reveal” moment of the plot. Differences were described rather than witnessed. All characters depicted adopted a melodramatic line of attack: shouting in flat voices which would have been more at home in radio production than in the intimate setting.

Another massive problem with the piece was its army of clichés in what could have been a strong feminist statement. Both characters were depicted as perpetually helpless and manic, even when they were at their most commanding. The believability of situations suffered repeatedly; the arbitrary “weird bottle” which somehow suggested itself as a murder weapon, men coming home saying things like “anybody home? I hear there’s a nice girl in there”, a boyfriend that left without explanation, and so on. Major scenes of conflict felt forced, and because they occurred with such frequency, they started to appear redundant instead of critical.

Underneath all its flaws, “My Sister” showed sparks of nascent potential. This performance could have been fantastic. There were moments of near-profundity, and hints of genuine investment in the heartaches of the characters. Since the ambitious script dealt with separation and mimesis, and the stage was literally made for just such a story, there was little excuse for the insipid outcome.

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