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Review: The Tyler Sisters

Review: The Tyler Sisters

Review: The Tyler Sisters cover photo on Stagedoor
Alexandra Wood’s The Tyler Sisters (Hampstead Downstairs) is just lovely. It is a quiet unassuming play full of heart and compassion that follows the complex, sometimes tense, frequently loving relationship between three sisters as their lives entwine, separate and come together over 40 years.

It is inspired by Nicholas Nixon’s wonderful series of photographs, The Brown Sisters, in which his wife and her three sisters have posed for his camera every year for 40 years.

Nixon’s photo series and Wood’s play both remind that time works in unexpected and often imperceptible ways both on the face and the heart. On relationships too. We first meet the Tyler girls in 1990 when Maddy (Caroline Farber) is 20, Gail (Bryony Hannah) is 18 and Katrina (Angela Griffin) is 16. The latter has appropriated the room that Gail left behind when she went off to university. The fact that Gail is unexpectedly back for the summer is telling, so too are the hostilities that break out between the two with the gentle, conflict adverse Maddy caught between sitting on the fence and keeping the peace.

Photos by Robert Day.

We last see them on Maddy’s 60th birthday at the top of Ben Nevis, and in between there are births and deaths, triumphs and crises. But this is a play about the little things. The important things. It is not about the great events of history, the way lives are buffeted by events beyond our control, the changes of government that occur, the financial crises that impact. This is about the domestic, not the global. The tiny accumulated moments that make a life.

It is a play that honours personal relationships and which in Abigail Graham’s production with three thoroughly engaging performances lets those relationships sing. By the end we know these women. We have laughed and cried with them. We have counted their losses including the loss of time. We see our own sibling relationships. If you are my age you see their ageing reflected back to you; if you are still young you will have an intimidation of what you still think will never happen to you and your sisters. That you will ever be 60. In a way this is a play that nightly raises the ghosts of these living women’s dead younger selves. Each scene, like the brief interval itself, is a punctuation in time.

We have seen a great many plays over the last two years in which women have been able to claim space on our stages. This beautifully observed play is part of that. It is far less shouty and emphatic than some of those plays, but it constantly reminds that the personal is political and that our individual relationships with family matter. Even when they shift like sands that shimmer and move in the waves of time. Even as they cause us pain as well as joy.

The Tyler Sisters runs at Hampstead Theatre until Sat 18 Jan.

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Lyn Gardner

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