Review: Minus One Sister

Nerida Dickinson

Electra in the suburbs, revealing the intensely personal and domestic face of the classic tragedy.
Review: Minus One Sister

Shouting out the names of companies as adverts play on the television, three siblings enthusiastically share their mundane childhood games, interspersed with enigmatic mention of the “minus one sister” – a missing space in their lives. With the casual oblivion of privilege, the children accept their father’s assistant being sent around the world at his employer’s whim, their exclusive schools and a mother immersed in her own interests. Ensconced firmly in their individual perspectives, the children share a naïve acceptance of the familial experience of murder and loss. While the minus one sister’s disappearance and death is a loss, their mother tears the family structure and reputation asunder in her betrayal through murdering their father and taking a new husband. To preserve the adored baby brother’s innocence, Orestes is sent to boarding school in Europe and never brought home for the holidays. Sister Electra descends into revenge-fuelled madness, regularly admitted to hospital wards and seeking control through eating disorders. On Orestes’ return, he becomes a tool for her matricidal vengeance.

ADVERTISEMENT

Writer Anna Barnes takes the Greek tragedy and sets it in a modern context, staying faithful to the key narrative plot points and character development while delivering fresh relevance. Describing the father as an often absent great CEO, the little brother pet-named the “baby CEO”, is an inspired modern imagining of great king Agamemnon. The Greek king’s prolonged absence at the siege of Troy, leaving his family and the young prince Orestes waiting at home, is mirrored in contemporary adulation of globe-trotting corporate moguls. Similarly, Orestes’ exile to boarding school ends as the repository of all present day secrets, the internet, replaces the Oracle of Delphi to send him home to Electra and her obsessions. Minus One Sister holds the often overlooked sacrifice of Iphigenia at its heart, Barnes’ interpretation echoing contemporary awareness of close adults abusing of youthful trust. The sister’s name is never mentioned while her absence remains a constant haunting presence.

Using an established myth underpins the gradually unfurling narrative with a strong story arc, allowing director Riley Spadero some leeway in interpreting the dense script with its intense passions. Skye Beker, Isaac Diamond and Stephanie Somerville are an impressive ensemble, their delivery of overlapping and interrupted lines producing a distorted effect to echo the subjectivity of memory. Their characters each share their viewpoints and experiences, the words tumbling out close to unison when they are together and sharing their experiences, and diverging as their lives take separate ways in wake of the various disasters befalling their family. Contrastingly, Phoebe Sullivan as Iphigenia is bereft of lines through most of the play, only speaking in her confused innocence to question her abduction in a scene recalling past events. Defying her character’s implicit lack of voice and agency, Sullivan uses impressive physical control to slink around the edges of the scenes, stopping and shaking to depict her character’s tangible absence from the family group.

Stark and sudden contrasts in lighting and sound designs emphasise character conflicts, as the simple and sparse set further focusses the human drama without props or visual features. The two angled walls allow characters to enter and exit as dramatically or unobtrusively as required, but given the potential of the larger space it seems to be more fitting to the restrictions of a black box theatre and foregoes the opportunity to develop a production that works in a more nuanced manner visually as well as textually.

An ambitious original work, presented with a slightly heavy hand in parts, SALT.’s Minus One Sister demonstrates the universality of human experience and reveals the modern relevance of ancient narrative.

Rating: 3 ½ stars

Minus One Sister
Presented by The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights and SALT.
Writer: Anna Barnes
Director: Riley Spadaro
Movement Director: Jessica Russell
Designers: Kaitlin Brindley & Kelly Fregon
Lighting Designer: Phoebe Pilcher
Composer and Sound Designer: Alex Turley
Producer and Production Manager: Emily Stokoe
Stage Manager: Jessie Atkins
Performed by Skye Beker, Isaac Diamond, Stephanie Somerville and Phoebe Sullivan

Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, Perth Cultural Centre
27 January – 3 February 2018
Part of Fringe World 2018

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.