Two Sisters (Lion and Unicorn)
Sheet Village Hall
April 21 and 22 2017
If, like, me you spent your student days during the second half of that most blessed of decades, the 1980s, you would have dined lavishly at the most rich and toothsome of cultural banquets. Your vinyl would have been graced by the Smiths and the Cure. Your politics would have been stridently anti-Thatcher, while enjoying what now seems like a la
vish student grant. And the chances are there was
one film you loved more than any others: Withnail and I. And you would spend long evenings drinking your grant away in the pub while shouting out selected extracts from this tale of two scabrous, washed up, boozed up actors living in squalor, bewailing the injustice that they are not famed and feted. It was hilarious – and still is.
Many of its aphorisms are too foulmouthed for this genteel reviewer. But one did come to mind as I sat back and enjoyed the Lion and Unicorn’s production of Two Sisters; the eponynous Withnail’s condemnation of the entirety of Russian drama: “…all about women looking out of windows, complaining about ducks flying to Moscow”.
And let’s face it he has a point. Caroline Harding’s Two Sisters involves no ducks but does involve women who are far from happy from their lot. They spend pretty much the whole play regretting everything that has happened in their lives, even spending time sitting or lying down to enjoy the comfort of a coffin that has mysteriously appeared in the room. Salad Days, this is not.
But in the expert hands of Laura Sheppard as Anya and Ali Hill as Sonia and under promising young director, Sam Gaffney, it was full of laughter – albeit laughter in the dark. In fact what I admired most about their work together but was not what they did, but what they let the other do. This was am dram of the highest order, allowing each other to shine and with splendid comic timing. They were hand in glove as they depicted two people in a living hell, with little in their lives and little prospect of more.
Ali was lugubriousness itself, but extracted a great deal of humour from her plight and her complaints about her small husband. Ali herself is the very model of propriety, but she gives a jolly impression of a lascivious old lush. Indeed, this was Russian despair via John Orton with even a soupcon of Frankie Howerd. But she also revealed her character to be capable of real feeling as well, with her speeches about her love – and her fears – for her children truly memorable and rather beautiful.
Alongside her was the redoubtable Laura. She was the more energised of the two – but it was the energy of a woman for whom happiness is a long distant memory. Again, she was very funny, even playful at times. But again, she showed herself capable of real emotional depth. In the programme notes, she described the play as profoundly poignant – and that too was what I saw in her performance.
But as well as two sisters we were also treated to lots of poetry – a first half full of it in fact, organised and led by the estimable Jill Hancock, who put together a programme of poems on the theme of sibling relationships. And what fun her crew had with them. Each shone at different times, especially when imitating children, with Roger Wallsgrove in particular clearly enjoying himself a great deal. Jill herself had something of Alastair Sim about her as she revelled in Mary Dunn’s Lady Addle Remembers, while Beryl Savill was especially effective in Kit Wright’s Waiting for the Tone. The highlight was perhaps unsurprisingly the weird sisters of Macbeth – and this produced a highlight all of its own; John Deavin, well known to many as the basso profundo of our parish church choir, revealing himself to be very comfortable with his inner crone as he screeched and stretched his way as one of those sisters. It was most unnerving. But like the whole of this cornucopia of poetic delights, most enjoyable.
I had a cracking evening at Sheet Village Hall – but also one in which I pondered anew what it was about Sheet that meant it was so suitable for a drama of despair. Last year I cringed at Ben Gander’s extraordinarily painful OCD and Me, and squirmed at the bourgeois hate-fest of God of Carnage. Now we have the despair of Two Sisters. But darkness though there might be, there is always a great deal of laughter when the Lion and the Unicorn are in town. And frankly, with two months left of a general election campaign, I’ll take any laughter I can get, especially when it is from acting of this calibre.