I know from personal experience how difficult relationships can be among members of extended families. There’s never a cast iron guarantee that siblings and half siblings will ever get on.
Ché Walker’sThe Etienne Sisters at Theatre Royal Stratford East until this Saturday, makes compelling drama. From the opening you’re sucked into the fraught relationship between sisters Ree and Tree and their wayward half-sister Bo.
On the night I sat in on the production there were gasps and groans from the (mainly female) audience who empathised or who were shocked, or delighted, by the closely observed dialogue. It was a bit like eavesdropping on some other family’s troubled life.
Walker’s inventive staging presents us with a dark and powerfully told story, acted on an almost bare stage save for Nikki Yeoh on a grand piano, and accompanied by a quite superb playlist of heartfelt bluesy, soulful, jazz from Anoushka Lucas.
The cast of three – Allyson Ava-Brown, Jennifer Saayeng and Nina Toussaint-White – are all passionate and gutsy singers and, for a change, the tunes fit right into the story instead of being awkwardly inserted.
The sisters have just buried their mother. Ree and Tree, who live together in the family home, are devastated but their sadness turns to anger when their estranged step-sister, Bo, turns up unannounced and uninvited.
Her sympathy for the death of the girls’ mother seems genuine but a furious Tree wants her gone. She’s nothing but trouble and it follows her like a malevolent shadow.
As the play progresses we learn more about the rent in the trio’s relationship and the cause of Tree’s anger.
The feisty Bo (a ballsy performance by Allyson Ava-Brown) has an ally in a misunderstood Ree (Saayeng) but her attempts to win over Tree appear to come to nothing.
Past grievances are aired along with anger, recrimination and sibling rivalry but, ultimately, there’s that unshakable bond between family.
The story is beautifully played out by the watchable three. Jennifer Saayeng gives us a quiet, reserved and forgiving Ree.
In complete contrast, Nina Toussaint-White’s outspoken and bitter Tree, is an essay in rage, her dreams and ambitions stalled by Bo’s early behaviour.
I’m not sure the outcome is entirely realistic for a troubled girl from London though it would seem more plausible if the story concerned brothers.
But Ché Walker, who directs his own work, has produced a tense and engrossing drama that we can all relate to on some level.
The Etienne Sisters, runs at Theatre Royal Stratford East until October 3.
The Etienne Sisters
Ché Walker’s The Etienne Sisters is a tense and engrossing family drama accompanied by a heartfelt songlist of original jazz.