Two Sisters

★ ★ ★ ★
Reviewer's Rating

Two Sisters, a new play written by the Lyceum’s Artistic Director David Greig and directed by Lyceum Associate Wils Wilson, is all about nostalgia. It takes the audience back to their teenage years, tugging on the heartstrings of their current selves by immersing them in the past. While elements of the nostalgia are laid on a little thick, the production is a largely funny and sharp exploration of what it means to grow up and look back on our younger selves.

The play focusses on middle-aged sisters Emma (Jess Hardwick) and Amy (Shauna Macdonald),
returning to the holiday park of their youth. Their lives have taken dramatically different courses
since their summers at the park 25 years ago, and over a sweltering end-of-summer weekend the
weight of the past comes crashing into the present.

Throughout, a Greek chorus of teenagers loiters around the edge of the stage, the mere presence of
their youth and freshness providing the perfect counterpoint to the older characters. However, at
intervals they also read out teenage memories submitted by the audience, awkwardly breaking the
flow of the play. Their active involvement in the plot is game and enjoyable, but does lead to a
certain bagginess.

Happily, the scenes solely between the sisters are worth the price of entry alone. Jess Hardwick as
Emma – the outwardly calm, content, professional lawyer – delivers just the right balance of smug
self-satisfaction, judgmental put-downs and genuine affection. Shauna Macdonald’s Amy is a brittle
and chaotic tangle of infidelity, booze and tight skirts, not quite able to embrace middle-aged
contentment in the way her sister has (apparently) managed. Both sisters seem somewhat
uncomfortable in their own skin, like teenagers role-playing adults.

Emma and Amy spar wonderfully, clearly re-hashing arguments and family dynamics that have
become well-worn with time. They let us see just how much changes and how much stays the same
over time, their scenes carried vibrantly along by Greig’s witty, withering writing. Indeed, Hardwick
and Macdonald are such a superb and convincing double act, it is tempting to wonder if a braver,
tighter and more impactful approach might have been to leave everything to them.

Around them, the set bakes evocatively in the sun – the faded caravans and rusting play equipment
familiar from any number of summer holidays – while nostalgic music plays in the background. Like
so much of the play, effective as these elements are, there is a sense of overdoing things slightly in
the effort to ram home the nostalgia (the set requires time-consuming scene changes), and a feeling
that less might have been more.

A frequently repeated refrain throughout the play is that ‘there is no such thing as dreams, just the
things you do do, and the things you don’t do’. Two Sisters is a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of
the idea that for better or worse, no matter what you try, you can’t go back. You’re stuck with the life you’ve made for yourself, and once you get over the terror of what that means, it can be a wonderfully freeing thought.


At the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh

Director: Wils Wilson
Writer: David Greig
Designer: Lisbeth Burian
Performed At: The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Cast: Jess Hardwick, Shauna Macdonald, Erik Olsson
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including interval