The Ugly Sisters at the Soho Theatre
Psychedelic rock threesome Not Now Bernard are in full swing on the Soho Theatre stage; a fitting prelude to RashDash’s noisy exploration of childhood neglect and bitter fame. Formed by Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen in 2009, RashDash aims at multi-sensory storytelling, stating in their manifesto: “We feel things in our fingers and toes and in our ribs as well as our heads.” This movement from cerebral to physical experience challenges the notion that speech is the fullest -or truest- means of conveying feeling.
This exploration of authenticity is particularly interesting when applied to Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters, the gruesome duo, discounted in history as jealous liars. RashDash present dichotomy between loathsome and beautiful women to explore how, culturally, the blame of individuals depends on their social standing and physical appearance. In the original folktale, Cinderella’s low social position is outshone by her goodness. But RashDash offer a more realistic vision of class order in which Cinderella’s privilege connotes education and beauty, and the lower class sisters are considered uncivilised and robbed of vocal articulacy. Much like the sisters of the original Cinderella who cut off their toes to fit Cinderella’s feminine shoes, the twins eventually conform to plastic surgery, their efforts leaving them broken and even more grotesque.
The dialogue is basic, faltering, and facetiously over-earnest. With a primacy of physical display over vocal description, RashDash show how truth can be lost in the translation of actual experience to speech. With drumming, operatic singing, violence and physical destruction, the girls’ bodies weave between palpable vulnerability and manic energy. RashDash are innovative musicians, noticeable when the Greenland performance loops the sound of Arabella’s simpering laughter to a crescendo of saccharine awfulness.
Despite the harrowing storyline, it is hard to feel physically moved. Surprising, when RashDash’s Edinburgh performance of Another Someone left half the audience in tears. Perhaps this is due to the emotional immaturity and inarticulacy of the sisters. Despite the physical expending of energy, there is little actual catharsis. This irresolution reinforces the currency of the play’s themes; the celebrity industry’s exploitation of the mentally vulnerable, and the social victimisation of the poor. It is a sad evocation of our times, but not without hope. The character’s energy and imagination are an ode to survival and the force of human love.
The Ugly Sisters is at Soho Theatre until 2nd February 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the production video here: