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Theatre Review: Two Sisters ****

Anna Burnside reviews a production 'with depth and texture' about the reverberation of teenage angst in later life.

Elder sister Amy arrives in the baking concrete of a run-down caravan park dressed for a night out in 1980. She dumps her only luggage - a carry out - on the path, lights a fag and sprawls pensively on the ground.

The younger Emma manages to float and wheel a suitcase at the same time. She is wearing sensible sandals, a shady hat and plenty of sunblock.

Costume and props set up the tension between the women, now in their early 40s, before the dialogue has properly started. 

The pair are back in the holiday venue of their youth so corporate lawyer Emma can work on a novel and music consultant Amy can escape the fallout of her husband discovering her in the kids’ bunk beds with the plumber.

Lance, the park DJ, is their age but yet to grow up. He is there to remind everyone that teenage experiences, however intense, are time specific.

David Greig’s story, about how decisions made in your tender years reverberate through the decades, is given depth and texture by a 14-strong chorus of young people who lounge on a wall, ask impertinent questions and fall on Amy’s bag of cans like seagulls on chips.

At key points they also read out audience responses to more pertinent questions. What were you wearing when you were 16? Who were you in love with?

This is a lot and, in less competent hands, could be a big old mess. However, Greig nails the 'best-friend-but-I-hate-her' dynamic of the sisters and gives Amy in particular some sizzling lines. 

Director Wils Wilson does a great job of herding sheep and uses the chorus cleverly. They are particularly effective in the tableaux, draped over the decrepit climbing frame or reclining on crates.

The two sisters are tremendous. Shauna Macdonald, as sexually incontinent Amy, fizzes and slumps as firecrackers in their 40s do. Jess Hardwick is a convincingly defensive little sister, her career, rich husband and half-formed novel never enough to eclipse Amy’s shadow.

The weakness in Greig’s plot is that it centres the mythologising of first love. That’s a guy thing. Women are much better at moving on. The dialogue and micro-plotting is strong - there’s a great shooting sub-plot which theatre nerds will recognise as Chekhov’s air rifle. It’s only on the macro level that it rings less true.

The second slight problem is that the chorus device relies on the audience coming up with some snappy and insightful answers for them to read out. 

It’s to Greig’s credit that he thinks the theatre-going demographic can remember that far back and then come up with one-liners that stand up against his polished work. 

They - we - needed to try harder. 

Two Sisters performs at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh until March 2, 2024. For more information, check the theatre website.

Photos by Jess Shurte.

Tags: theatre

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