By far the highlight of My Sister is the excellent choice of venue. The upstairs space in the Fiddlers’ Elbow is made up of two adjoining rooms with a doorway between them and seating at both ends, creating a ‘mirror image’ effect that is beautifully exploited.
In general, the staging is excellent: minimal with a touch of the immersive, taking full advantage of the space and of the actors’ physicality. The two-person nature of the play is executed well and curiously integrated into the plot – in retrospect the fact that only one of the sisters is seen to interact with other characters at a time becomes significant.
All in all, a carefully and skillfully staged piece, but unfortunately the writing, though ambitious, doesn’t quite live up to its backdrop. Most of the play is an account of the two sisters; childhoods as they are abused and neglected by their parents. Misery is piled upon misery, weaving a tale of physical and sexual abuse, alcoholism, neglect, co-dependence and, ultimately, murder. The terrible problems the two sisters experience are so overwhelming as to become implausible and bordering on monotonous.
To make matters worse, much of the first half of the play is unrelentingly loud to the point of abrasiveness as the scene moves from children at play to drunken adults to children being abused. The constant noise gets irritating quickly; the quieter scenes are too few and too far apart.
My Sister does pick up in the final act with its eventual plot twist and its sudden swerve into psychological drama but this is too little too late and whether it’s well-foreshadowed or just screamingly obvious from the start is subjective. It’s certainly not the most inspired of twists, though it’s carried out here with more attention to detail than usual.
However, this is the free fringe. For all its faults, My Sister is an ambitious and thought-provoking hour of theatre. Though the plot is not the most original, the writing comes across as inexperienced rather than outright bad – and, as mentioned, the staging is truly excellent. Even if you see the twist coming a mile away, the moment when the pieces come together and you understand the significance of the double-sided performance space, whether it comes at the beginning or the end, is a beautiful one.
If you want to see something a bit different, this short thriller is worth an hour of your time. You can see My Sister at two o’clock at the Fiddlers Elbow until August 25th.