The Etienne Sisters, Theatre Royal Stratford East: Review

This powerful piece about what it means to be part of a family written and directed by Che Walker is thoughtful and intelligent throughout.

Beginning at the funeral of their mother, Bo (Allyson Ava-Brown), Ree (Jennifer Saayeng)  and Tree (Nina Toussaint-White) are three very different characters but each complement each other’s flaws and strengths perfectly. The play is very character driven and shows each of the characters going on a journey to discover themselves.

The Etienne family have their secrets and baggage with each sister seemingly close to breaking point. This play asks several questions: is it possible for families to stick together through thick and thin? Should families always be there for each other? What happens if the person who held the family together is no longer around?

Set in what appears to be a warehouse with a piano in the centre of the stage; it is a very stylish production and really keeps the attention on the three sisters throughout. The back wall also plays a major part in the video feeds that are used to express their thoughts – in particular when the sisters are being hassled by a man who is to them is a monster and is very effective in the process. The set also helps to add to the tension as the sister’s fight and try and find mutual ground, representing how trapped they feel and discovering who they really are.

Allyson Ava-Brown (photo credit Robert Day)

Allyson Ava-Brown (photo credit Robert Day)

But the key element to the production is the performances of the three characters themselves. Allyson Ava-Brown gives an outstanding performance as the arrogant and trouble maker Bo – but at the same time conveying the sense of vulnerability that reflects the hard and disruptive life she has led up until now. But balancing this out, Nina Toussaint White as the protective and self-righteous Tree and Jennifer Saayeng as the downtrodden Ree put in equally strong performances as they discover a side of themselves that they didn’t realise existed.

Although for the most part the story flows well, what holds it back slightly is the songs by Anoushka Lucas and Sheila Atim. Although the songs are strong within themselves, it feels as though by placing them in the play it distracts from the flow of the plot. However, the cast perform them with perfect harmonies and pour their heart and soul into singing them.

Special mention should go to pianist Nikki Yeoh for her performance of the score, there is richness and high quality in her playing that adds additional depth to the production.

The play itself has a wonderful dialogue that is poetic and really gets to the heart of what Walker is trying to say. It is filled with anger and bitterness but right at the heart of it is love and how unconditional it can be, taking you by surprise when you least expect it.

Filled with plenty of heart and emotion, The Etienne Sisters is thought provoking and leaves you wondering if you are being the best person that you could be. An extremely powerful piece of work.

The Etienne Sisters is showing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until Saturday 3rd October. For more information visit: http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/the-etienne-sisters 

Thank you to Theatre Bloggers for the ticket!