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Review of Sister by Born Mad at Ovalhouse

SisterThere are shows that feel so much shorter than they are. Sister isn’t one of them. An almost blistering start simply could not be sustained, and rather than building up to a strong finish, the ending instead is something of an anti-climax. There are a number of stories going on, but as there is little if any tangible connection between them, the play is made unnecessarily complicated. Just as we are making some headway with one storyline, there’s a scene change, and the audience must then work to switch between several narratives, and keep up with which one the show is in at any given moment.

This would have worked better, I suspect, as a series of very short plays, in which we are able to get to know each character and their story more easily. The innovative use of sound effects is impressive to begin with, but is eventually over-relied upon, outstaying its welcome. I failed to see what was achieved by, for example, amplifying the sound of teeth-brushing, except to demonstrate that it can be done.

Daisy Brown and Nia Coleman have beautiful operatic voices, for which the use of microphones was wholly unnecessary. A pity, then, that this wasn’t an opera – at least then the tuneful and skilled singing might have had meaningful content.

Their vocals often overlap, and again the elaborate sound effects work their magic, to the point where the show becomes a victim of its own success. There are moments when there are, in essence, two voices speaking at the same time, leaving the audience largely unable to comprehend what either is saying. This frustration with lost dialogue is only compounded by other moments in which both performers speak simultaneously as though one character.

For too long, the audience is subjected to a lot of elongated ‘ahh’ notes, which I think was supposed to denote some form of mourning process for a departed character, but sounded to me like a warm-up for a concert. So much was missed due to the impenetrable walls of sound that I frankly lost interest.

Unable to determine what precisely was going on, my thoughts were almost forced to momentarily turn to matters unconnected with the show.

What I can deduce is that it all seemed dystopian. Even tales of childhood memories focused on the nastier side of sibling rivalry and the negative consequences of seemingly innocent actions. The use of a story about someone whose family was forcibly separated due to a civil war overseas was well-intentioned, and gave the show some gravitas, but on the other hand, the other stories, set as they are in peacetime Western societies, threatened to pale into relative insignificance. The term ‘first world problems’ came to mind, though I hasten to add there was nothing preachy or instructive in the manner in which the stories were presented.

It’s clear there’s been a lot of work put into this show, particularly with regard to the authenticity of sounds featured throughout the piece. I can’t help thinking there might have been a better pay-off if only the considerable overkill of noise were stripped back, allowing the show’s audiences to better hear what its characters are actually saying.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Mira was separated from her sisters for 15 years during the civil war in Algeria. Jessica and Annabel used to tell each other everything. And Tara? Well, she’s a bit of a pyromaniac…

Sister is an outpouring of memories – some tender, some comic, and others painful and raw.
Foley art and stark verbatim text meet Alex Groves’ expansive electronic music to create this bold new production which gets right to the core of family life.

Born Mad is a cutting-edge music theatre company based in London. We tell unusual stories in unusual ways, fusing ethereal electronics, soaring vocal lines and bold visuals. We are a collective of composers, directors, singers, dancers and designers who work across art forms to explore the unexpected.

Sister by Born Mad
Wheelchair Access
Tue 6 Sep – Sat 10 Sep, 2016 7:30pm
http://www.ovalhouse.com/

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