Spotlight, November 2012 Theatre Review
A Poem for my Sister
by Sue Leather & Lesley Sherwood
Earlier this month, the talented duo of Sue Leather and Lesley Sherwood gave three one-night stands of their new play, A Poem for my Sister, directed by Sue Humphreys for Theatre Someone.
David Lewis writes a review after the performance in Paddy’s Pub, Ferney-Voltaire, on 7 October.
Liz (played by Sue), a somewhat dowdy teacher from Surrey, arrives at a “bijou” mews flat in central London. She is there to clear up after her younger sister Jo, who has died of cancer. As in Coward’s Blithe Spirit, which features a ghost invisible to the rest of the cast, Jo (played by Lesley) is present to the audience but not to Liz. (Message to Jo’s executors: is the flat for sale? It’s just a bus ride from the West End.) Liz is irritated rather than grieving. Jo, a former “jet-setting” conference interpreter, has inconsiderately died in Liz’s busy term time. What’s more, Jo wants Liz to organise a funeral at which people wear colourful clothes and are ushered out to The Beatles and she wants her sister to read a poem. Liz is a relative philistine. (Relieved that Jo does also want Mozart at the funeral, she is unaware that Don Giovanni is an opera) and she is not big on poems. Choosing a poem to read at Jo’s funeral is just another annoying task. As for wearing colourful clothes, Liz prepared for the funeral long in advance by buying a well-cut but (Jo thinks) ill-chosen black suit in a Knightsbridge sale. … Why can’t people have sensible funerals? As Liz rummages through Jo’s untidy flat, bursting with books and treasures, she is also rummaging through their respective lives. Liz is jealous of Jo’s frequent travel abroad, and of the many lovers she imagines her sister to have had. (There is a false alarm when Liz discovers a very loving letter from her husband to Jo. Not only does it prove to be totally innocent; it also shows Liz how much she is valued by both her husband and Jo.) Perched half way to heaven on a bar stool or a set of library stairs, Jo gives us comic counterpoint to Liz’s foibles and frustrations, and revelations of her own point of view. She lets us know that she would have happily swapped her airports and look-alike hotels in distant capitals for the real treasures of husband and children enjoyed by Liz. Liz and Jo were very close until a defining visit to a swimming pool in their childhood. Their father is teaching Liz to swim, and Jo decides to get his attention by pretending to drown. Father goes to Jo’s aid, leaving Liz to flail in the water and to conclude that Jo is her father’s favourite. Decades of resentment ensue. Liz’s gradual realisation that her decades of jealousies and resentments of Jo were illfounded – that, for example, the swimming pool incident did not show that Jo was her father’s favourite – is the main learning arc of the play. She comes to terms with the past. She finds the right poem for the funeral (a poem written by Jo herself on the joys of a cup of tea). She resolves to wear blue and pink to the funeral, and decides that her children – Jo’s niece and nephew – should sing The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”.
A Poem for my Sister might be called A Tale of Two Sisters or Reconciliation after Death. A comedy with serious undertones, it will ring bells with anyone with personal experience of sibling rivalry. The play has a happy ending but perhaps it also has a moral for those who don’t believe in ghosts: sort out your family resentments before the Grim Reaper comes along.
The funny and perceptive writing of A Poem for My Sister is well-matched by excellent acting, direction, set and music . Congratulations to all concerned. I hope the work has legs. In short I have nothing but praise for this pleasingly-proportioned playlet perfectly performed in a packed Paddy’s Pub.