Wicked Sisters

Theatre, Comedy
Vanessa Williams in Griffin's Wicked Sisters
Photograph: Supplied Vanessa Williams stars in Griffin's Wicked Sisters

Time Out says

Teeny Griffin has found a temporary new home at the Seymour Centre to welcome back Alma De Groen's 2002 hit

Something wicked this way comes. Alma De Groen’s whip-smart revenge tragi-comedy Wicked Sisters has landed at Griffin Theatre’s hallowed Stables in November for an encore run, after first debuting there in 2002. You won't be ducking into its Kings Cross theatre for this one, though – Griffin has temporarily relocated to the University of Sydney’s Seymour Centre to allow a bigger audience than its tiny home allows, while social distancing is still in play.

Alec Hobbes, social Darwinist and artificial intelligence researcher, is dead. But his reach lives on though the artificial intelligence algorithm he designed, one which rumbles on in the background in a flurry of blips and fluorescently lit 'critters' which act out the infite possibilities of the universe – as, all the while, a real-life drama takes place in front of it. Alec's  widow, the acerbic Meridee (played by Vanessa Downing), tiptoes around the computer, much like she did during most of her marriage to Alec. Every now and then, due to a mislaid hand or a tap of the keys, the 'experiment' goes haywire, blasting alarm signals which summon Meridee from another room, or out of a reverie. It's all done with panache by sound designer Nate Edmondson, such that the sound gaps give distinct structure to the plot otherwise based mostly in dialogue. 

The drama of the play begins when a trio of women Meridee knew in university show up to her Blue Mountains home to drag her back into the real world. The production is directed by Nadia Tass, who places the four women in tight, close-quarters set constructed by Tobhiyah Stone Feller. Each of them constantly switches chairs and locations to highlight the formlessness of the seemingly structured lives they've created for themselves: what they once believed in university has fallen at their feet.

Meridee is widowed and spent her life tending to her now-dead husband's needs; Hester, once the "brains of the group", is cleaning houses for a living; Judith, a jaded PR executive, is career-driven and desperately lonely; and Lydia fills the hole of her husband's infidelity by chasing a younger man with a "beautiful dick".

If that list reads a little like a rollcall of clichés about middle-aged women, it's because the women are defined a little too obviously in relation to each other. Characterisations are blunt, particularly in the case of Hester, a self-righteous, self-labelled feminist who in fact spends much of the play criticising the other women's choices – but she also represents the only character whose life hasn't been an exercise bowing to the whims and rages of men. The differences between the women are stark, but often serve to reinforce stereotypes rather than provide nuance. However, the actors carry off their depictions of the polarising characters with grace and hidden depth. 

While its themes don't seem entirely relevant and hard-hitting in 2020 as they may have done in 2002, it's a poignant pick. “Alma was the first dramaturg in residence at Griffin, so it feels really really nice to welcome her voice and her structural expertise, which is really on display in Wicked Sisters, back into the fold of the company," says artistic director Declan Greene. “Back then, Australian stages were bereft of fiercely intelligent, independent, brave, elegant, witty female characters over 50, so Alma wrote this play. Like Margaret Atwood, her writing of women was way ahead of its time, and we’re thrilled to welcome her back onto the Griffin stage.”  

You can catch Wicked Sisters at the Seymour Centre until December 12. And read all about Griffin's 2021 season here

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