Review: Nicole Beckwith’s Untitled Matriarch Play (or Seven Sisters), at the Royal Court

From left: Laura Elphinstone, Natasha Gordon, Angela Terence, Debbie Crazen, Anna Calder-Marshall. Photo Helen Murray

From left: Laura Elphinstone, Natasha Gordon, Angela Terence, Debbie Crazen, Anna Calder-Marshall. Photo Helen Murray

The Royal Court Weekly Rep continues, we are at number five of six plays in six weeks. The Untitled Matriarch Play (or Seven Sisters), written by Nicole Beckwith and directed by Vicky Featherstone, doesn’t hold any mysteries in its title. Seven women, related to each other in different ways, or not at all, grudgingly come together to argue, undermine and occasionally support each other. Men are largely absent. Apart from a boy who died as a child, Ted whose best quality is he is irrelevant and a father who looks like the captain from Love Boat (you need to be of a certain age to appreciate this reference).

Naturally, the Bechdel Test comes to mind. These women talk to each other for things other than men, but more often than not they talk at each other. They also talk about food (should the Bechdel test be amended to include diets?). They reserve their best true self for the times they talk directly to the audience: the play’s one great moment comes when Grandma Sylvie (Anna Calder-Marshall) talks about growing old, outliving your children and “being grateful, if not happy”.

While the energy of the dialogue is impressive, the truth of the moment is occasionally sacrificed to the gag. Which makes me sound a lot more negative than I feel: the characters have genuine rapport, the relationship between siblings is well observed and motherhood is scrutinised with surprising results.

The cast is a small piece of heaven – and I have to remind myself this was rehearsed for barely a week: Laura Elphinstone taps into Claire’s insecurities with real commitment and balances funny and pitiful with revelatory results. Angela Terence as Sera makes wide-eyed innocence a source of strength. It’s a joy seeing Farzana Dua Elahe playing fifteen year old Beckah. Anna Calder-Marshall and Siobhan Redmond, mother and daughter, twist and turn and finish the relationship they started in Death Tax.

Seven Sisters came after Mint and before Talk Show (which is an all male play).

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