A doll house takes centre stage of the Tron‘s Changing House theatre. Its windows are illuminated and behind it, the set is built as an amplified version of one of the doll house’s interior walls. Already, director Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir is introducing the audience to the themes of secrecy, hidden depths, and family life in Uther Dean’s Me and My Sister Tell Each Other Everything.
The play details the relationship between two sisters, Murph (Eilidh Loan) and Jos (Anna Russell-Martin), exploring their upbringing and their complicated lives as adults. After a close childhood together, the sisters’ connection becomes fractious as Murph struggles with serious mental health problems and Jos becomes disconnected, stuck in the rut of her own seemingly ‘normal’ life. Loan and Russell-Martin open the play with a perfectly-rehearsed duologue, spoken in sync with one another, detailing the arrival of the doll house in their lives as children. This technique of precisely-matched dialogue is recycled at various points in the play, highlighting the closeness of the women and the intrinsic bond between them.
Despite the humour and warmth in the characters, it’s easy to see the flaws of both, as well as the blockages that make it more and more difficult for them to communicate as time passes. As their lives branch off in dissonant directions, pathos is created and we yearn for them to rediscover their closeness. Scenes depicting mental health breakdowns and suicide attempts are stark and harrowing, but create vivid depth to the characters and push the play beyond a superficial family drama.
Structurally, there are clever tricks at work here, and the play’s manipulation of time allows us to traverse between past, present, and even future, providing glimpses of formative moments in the sisters’ childhood and constantly adding further layers to their personalities and the dynamics of their relationship. Digital projections are also skilfully employed, and the blank life-size doll house wall becomes a bedroom, a kitchen, a gallery for family home videos, and carefully spliced video footage that develops a sense of context, nostalgia, and place. A climactic highlight features innovative use of live camera phone footage capturing the interior of the doll house, projecting it for the audience to spy on.
Me and My Sister is an intricate and emotive exploration of mental health and communication in families. Loan and Russell-Martin’s performances are funny, nuanced, and powerful and they convincingly recreate a complex dynamic between two troubled and believable sisters. With this play, Tron Theatre continues to showcase intelligent, challenging, and affecting work.