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The Etienne Sisters review at Theatre Royal Stratford East – ‘thrilling new chamber musical’

Allyson Ava-Brown and Nikki Yeoh in The Etienne Sisters at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Photo: Robert Day Allyson Ava-Brown and Nikki Yeoh in The Etienne Sisters at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Photo: Robert Day
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Written and directed by Che Walker, with songs by Anoushka Lucas and Sheila Atim, The Etienne Sisters tells the story of a family unit attempting to survive the death of their mother. As sisters Ree and Tree are playing reluctant hosts at the wake, the prodigal stepsister Bo arrives waving an olive branch in lieu of past misdemeanours, and despite misgivings, re-enters the family home. All seems well but deep-seeded resentments and childhood memories are soon stirred up, and while Bo has always been trouble, she now has a psychopathic villain on her trail.

Walker’s richly plotted story may be swift but it weaves a colourful tapestry around the lives and aspirations of its three protagonists. Billed as a play with music, Lucas and Atim’s songs are however genuinely narrative and progress the tale as eloquently as any piece of contemporary musical theatre.

Elements of Walker and Lucas’ critically acclaimed Klook’s Last Stand resonate in the bare-bones staging, slick dialogue and simple orchestrations, here brought to life by Nikki Yeoh on piano. If anything, the Theatre Royal stage may be too capacious for what is, in essence, a chamber piece, but Walker’s deft direction makes good use of the stage while video projections from Louis Price flood the rear wall, adding texture to the space.

Impeccable casting brings together Jennifer Saayeng as Ree and Nina Toussaint-White as Tree but the catalyst is most definitely Allyson Ava-Brown as bad-girl Bo. Thrilling vocal performances capture Lucas’ evocative score but it’s the chemistry of these three uber-talented performers that give this show its heart and soul.

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Thrilling new chamber musical featuring a bold narrative style and a classy, simplistic staging