A show as honest as Sister is a rare thing. That it manages to be so honest whilst at the same time acknowledging, accentuating and completely owning its performativity is even more remarkable. This is a piece which both admits to and enacts the everyday performance involved in simply being a woman, managing to revel in that performance one minute and shrug it off with weary effort the next.
Rosana and Amy Cade are sisters in every sense of the word. They are bound by blood and by their shared commitment to feminism, but this commitment manifests itself in contrasting and sometimes surprising ways. Rosana is a lesbian performance artist; Amy is a sex worker living in Berlin. In this new piece they have created together, they both bare all – literally and figuratively – in an attempt to understand their relationship to one another, to sex and to modern feminism.
The show begins, as it continues, by confounding expectations. Rosana and Amy, dressed in matching wigs and outfits, invite two members of the audience on stage for a lapdance. It’s a provocative opening, but one that – like much of the show that follows – offers a playful way into knotty, nuanced discussions.
Rather than revisiting familiar feminist debates, many of which are receiving articulate airings elsewhere on the Fringe, Sister chooses to tackle the unsaid or the misunderstood. Sex work, for instance, is usually only spoken of in one of two registers: as straightforward exploitation, or in glamorised, Belle de Jour-style terms. Amy shares her experience, however, in a way that acknowledges and shares the true complexity of what she chooses to do for a living and why. It’s brilliantly, refreshingly frank.
There is also something refreshing about the ways in which these two women present their bodies on stage. Although they begin by reproducing familiar images of female sexuality, once they are stripped of both clothes and wigs this too is complicated. By spending most of the show naked, they make this sight first strange and then natural, subtly beginning to erode at some of the many associations wrapped around the female body. Then there are the moments, such as Rosana’s aggressive, Doc Marten-clad pole-dance, that suddenly alter our ways of looking.
These many slight shifts in perception add up to a cumulatively powerful piece. What makes it additionally compelling is how deeply, unapologetically personal it is. Through Rosana and Amy’s differing and yet in some ways surprisingly similar experiences of negotiating their gender and sexuality, an impressively wide range of issues are delicately touched upon. And while the Cade sisters never simplify the difficulty or complexity of anything they discuss, they gesture towards a space where openness and optimism might just be a possibility.