Brighton Fringe 2014
Amy and Rosana are sisters. Amy works in the sex industry. Rosana is a lesbian with a shaved head and hairy arm-pits. They are both feminists.
With freshness, verve and honesty they reveal everything in an attempt to understand their own and each other’s sexual identities, and how the world they grew up in together has shaped them into who they are today.
Sister’s autobiographical show combines art with disclosure, it’s a compelling and rewarding piece of theatre, starting with the very sexy pole dancers who welcome us in – Sister doesn’t flinch from sex and attractiveness anymore than it flinches from a quieter more inward display later on. This is a huge strength: neither approach is devalued. My partner spoke to two younger woman afterwards who personified two reactions to those approaches, specifically in their reactions to the introductory scenes of a pole dance and a lap dance on stage: one felt discomforted by it, the other was trying to remember the moves.
So there we are at the beginning; the two sisters discard their clothing during the dances and remain naked for most of the rest of the performance, which felt natural, strangely comforting in fact, because the baring of their thoughts and feelings was a deeper uncovering, and it just fitted together nicely, this performance nudity with performance confession. Confession isn’t quite the right word – it’s interesting that when we show our souls to the world we are often said to confess, as if all uncovering has to ask for forgiveness – especially if it’s sex we’re talking about.
The opening sequence over, Amy removes her sister’s Rosana’s makeup, and tells us about her childhood as the oldest, and then, as an adult, her entry in and progress in the sex industry. Rosana has a bare shaved head now, Amy with her more tanned skin and tattoos fits her part, Rosana is in what I think I’m right in seeing as a chosen, overt identity as a feminist and lesbian. Where they were almost identical at the beginning: you could almost have mistaken them for twins, they are now very different, and Rosana’s unveiling is a powerful visual statement. That doesn’t mean Amy’s not a feminist too, though, in charge of her life making her own choices and the show explores and twists around the paradoxes that are not necessarily paradoxes, the oppositions that exist but don’t separate the two sisters.
The device of both sisters sitting telling their story simultaneously means you have to concentrate on one or the other. They are very clear in their speech so you can always focus in on one, but you can’t hear them both simultaneously. This felt to me to symbolise some tension between their two lifestyles – as then when Amy describes her various exploits in porn alone, Rosana sits by the pole and emphasises certain words, like “Industry” with a flat, loud voice. So the show continues with this intensely personal working though of the sisters different lives, and an equally different working through and contrasting of a happy untrammelled life in the sex industry with, what came across as, a much more difficult and painful journey, to a much more personal and internal sexuality.
Interspersed with this are footage of both the sisters when they were under seven, showing a happy and physical childhood, dancing, in pools, blowing bubbles. We are shown a happy, energetic family life that emphasises how they both came from exactly the same environment, whatever their choices when they grew up.
The show doesn’t labour the difficulties of being a lesbian when you are a teenager, though Rosana’s uncomfortable descriptions of teenage sexual experimentation with boys give you a vivid sense of someone trapped in behaviours that she will not chose when she grows up. The piece doesn’t draw conclusions about either of the sisters’ lifestyles, other than to emphasise the fact and the necessity of choice – fully reinforced in Rosana’s epilogue. It is an incredibly effortless and artful window onto two such different women. At the end, as they dismantle the pole, they chat freely about what they like and dislike in sex with a lightness and permission that is serious and meaningful as well. You like this, I like that and that’s OK – it’s a message of communication, consent and relaxation that comes across, a vivid and life-enhancing view of sexuality that is really welcome. As a man watching I felt communicated with and safe in my own sexuality because they were so relaxed in theirs. As a woman my partner felt the same – this is a rare show indeed, about sexuality and sisterhood, difference and development, that is so open and explorative without being overly dramatic or polarised.
It is an intense performance – but the intensity is in the exploring and the depth, and the acceptance of each other’s lifestyle. It’s a powerful statement of the necessity of choice, such that we can have wildly ranging sexual lives without guilt, can escape the societal expectations that will try to shape and form, and sometimes deform, our attitudes toward our own and others sexuality.