Sister – Ovalhouse Theatre

Sister by Rebecca Hanbury (writer) and Alex Groves (composer)

Director Rebecca Hanbury

Producer Helen Edwards for Born Mad

Ovalhouse Theatre until 10th September

The story of this work of art is that of the strength and beauty that lies in the hearts of all female siblings. Women of all backgrounds contribute, their words form the basis of the dialogue, as they spin tales of heartbreak and triumph; salvation and disaster. Around fifty were interviewed, and their words form the raw material for the show.

Re-assembled episodically, the scenes show life’s milestones, as the bond strengthens and deepens, from childhood through to marriage, motherhood and beyond.

The found sounds and noises of everyday life, produced on stage with practiced ease by the cast on a bewildering variety of household items, are recorded live and looped, as a soundscape of concrete music is overlaid with snatches of spoken word.

Photo Credit Ludovic Des Cognets

Photo Credit Ludovic Des Cognets

Gradually the voices become distinct, as the truth of the relationships is woven into the fabric of the piece. Both principals Daisy Brown and Nia Coleman give beautifully nuanced performances, the understated grace of the words and underlying truth of the story are enhanced and never obscured by the building aural sculpture; composed, assembled and performed live by the unseen Alex Groves.

The performance takes on a mesmerising grandeur, melodic themes are reprised; changed and set against different aspects. Humour and tragedy, success and failure all are presented without sentimentality. Slowly, the underlying musicality in the piece grows, and without evident transition, the dialogue merges into song, taking on an operatic quality. Initially the vocal melody is carried by the pair on a single note, minute modal variations in the underpinning noise provide a complex counterpoint.

Photo Credit Ludovic Des Cognets

Photo Credit Ludovic Des Cognets

Design (Georgia De Grey) and lights (Ben Jacobs) frame this powerful performance perfectly, all aspects of the whole being superbly co-ordinated.

The individual characters and their stories swim into focus. The angst of the exiled Algerian, the tragedy of the nice middle class family with the secretly abusive father, the accidental arsonist. Hanbury refuses to allow the piece to lapse into melodrama, despite the emotive nature of the material.

The shape of this sound sculpture becomes clear, with echoes of Terry Riley and John Cage, the two voices used as instruments, the vocal narrative as part of the aural whole. There is conflict and anger and loss and sadness, all seen through the lens of the sororal relationship.

Photo Credit Ludovic Des Cognets

Photo Credit Ludovic Des Cognets

A scene of betrayal brings the work to a stunning, cacophonic climax. Groves uses the full range of his orchestra of found sounds, the music swelling over the increasingly desperate sisters. Emotion stripped raw is thrown into the mix, as this production lets rip and hits all of the emotional centres hard and at once.

And then it resolves with a beautifully sung and wordless narrative, a duet that eloquently tells of the power and joy of sisterhood.

Brown, Coleman and Groves perform a tour de force of a performance, apparently effortlessly synching sound, loops, samples and live vocals, their proficiency speaking of many weeks of rehearsal and development.

The work has a criminally short run at the Ovalhouse, closing this Saturday the 10th, and surely deserves a transfer and a longer run.

Perfect. Mesmerising. A true joy.

Sister – Ovalhouse Theatre until 10th September

★★★★★ “Perfect. Mesmerising. A true joy”

Guest Review by Laura Thomas


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