Two Spanish sisters, old but cackling with vitality, live surrounded by cardboard boxes, by the light of inverted lampshades. Adapted from Roger Simeon’s Spanish absurdist text, Bryony Shanahan directs a neat, hour-long meditation on the chaotic sprawl of passing time.
The production has a multi-lingual vibrancy, the geriatric torpor broken apart by speaking, shouting, singing, and dancing self-expression in English, Spanish and Catalan.
Simeon’s play was originally written for a husband and wife, but the transition to siblinghood is brilliantly effective; there’s something more tragic about sisters aging uncoupled, even if they are in good company, thanks to the lingering stigma attached to singledom. Mercè Ribot’s character is a younger sister made dependent by what seems like dementia, or withdrawal from the world – her simple language manouevres the dialogue into something Beckettian, with bleak reflections on the passing minutes. She is forgetful, but easily placated, making for some gleeful play-acting of never-existent luxuries, as the sisters mime a feast and wine tasting that, for the moment, they both fully believe in.
As the elder sister, Patrícia Rodríguez, is a steely powerhouse, brilliantly defiant and revolutionary, driving the piece’s forays out from wry mundanity into the punchy and physical. Her twisted enaction of her own funeral plays wonderfully on all the mundane violations of death, on the awkwardness of transporting her coffin – not just down the aisle on mismatched shoulders, but from one city to another, making her split heritage morbidly tangible – and of the futility of lipstick applied to a corpse.
There are politics bubbling under the surface of the piece, too effervescent to be popped neatly into any one ideology. The sisters’ performance of ‘L’Estaca,’ a 1968 Catalan protest song, is a heartfelt note that underscores their rebellion, a dark shade on their light-hearted protest against having to work in an age of machines; their voices blend in beautiful, strident harmony, in a unity and purpose that can only be sustained while they’re singing.
The sisters lament that ‘You and me should have changed the world’ – instead, disenfranchised, they’re left griping at each other and groping for answers, finding resolution in an exhilarating species of prop-heavy exuberance. There’s a lot to love about their quirky energy and endearingly crazy play-acting, but almost overwhelmed beneath the songs, streamers, falling marbles and emptying boxes, the play throbs with a darker, more political life.