The Etienne Sisters at Theatre Royal Stratford East
The Etienne Sisters, a touching play written by Ché Walker and punctuated with original songs from Anoushka Lucas (the collaborative pair behind the critically acclaimed Klook’s Last Stand), premieres this month at Theatre Royal Stratford East. A widely receptive audience gathers at the Theatre Royal for a much anticipated show. It is a fantastic venue, lauded for giving voice to communities and those otherwise left unheard in the mainstream vein of London’s theatre scene.
The narrative follows two of the sisters, Tree and Ree, after the devastating loss of their mother, at which point Bo, their estranged half-sister, comes back full force into their lives. The play is an intimate look into a family attempting to rebuild its fractured bond on a shaky foundation, harboured since childhood and reinforced with years of ambivalence. A premise with which many people can easily identify, the play demonstrates the often inexplicable familial ties that endure despite confrontational spats or festering contempt.
Allyson Ava-Brown as Bo completely steals the show and runs with it. Her vocal styling and stage presence alone make it impossible for anyone to peel eyes or ears away from her, and she plays the manipulative, troubled sister with affecting humanity. Nina Toussaint-White and Jennifer Saayeng, as Tree and Ree respectively, give moderately good performances, despite Toussaint-White sounding a bit flat in the opening, and both actresses sometimes becoming ungrounded and fidgety to the point of detracting from the scene.
The music (soulful jazz, both pleasant and wrenching) is enjoyable but not entirely memorable. However, the other star of the evening is the virtuoso on piano, Nikki Yeoh. Walker’s decision to employ the onstage pianist not just as accompaniment, but also as a sort of abstract character, proves to be advantageous. The inventive use of projections is also cunningly employed to add the presence of other characters to the stage.
Walker crafts a revealing window into the lives of the Etienne sisters, and his minimalistic direction allows the sisters’ words and songs to carry the story. This superbly written show and its talented cast, crew and creative team certainly deserve longer than its slated three-week run.
Photos: Robert Day
The Etienne Sisters is on at Theatre Royal Stratford East from 10th September until 3rd October 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch The Etienne Sisters photoshoot here: