Theatre Review: LITTLE SISTER – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Little Sister at Royal Exchange Theatre

Dark, daring and incredibly dramatic, LITTLE SISTER is an innovative production which explores the themes of silence and survival

Following highly acclaimed performances of HUSBANDS & SONS, KING LEAR, THE NIGHT WATCH and THE MIGHTY WALZER, Royal Exchange close their spring/summer season with the world premiere of LITTLE SISTER, an innovative reinterpretation of a classic fairytale that is dark and daring.

Loosely based on the Brothers Grimm fairytale THE SIX SWANS which tells the story of a young girl who is forced to live in silence for seven years in order to save her brothers, LITTLE SISTER is a unique theatre experience which explores the themes of silence, survival, suffering and sacrifice. The innovative project designed by award-winning artist, director and theatre maker Mark Storor brings together participants from across Greater Manchester whose lives have been affected by abuse to deliver an extraordinarily beautiful, delicate and uplifting piece of theatre.

Dark, daring and incredibly dramatic, LITTLE SISTER is an intensely visual and poetic production that is part theatre, part live-art. Storor is well-known for taking lived experiences and turning them into a staged metaphor and LITTLE SISTER does just that. For the past 18 months, Storor has been working with people from vulnerable and marginalised communities to give a voice to those we rarely choose to hear. Using the fairy tale as the spine, Storor hangs the flesh and blood of the true stories onto a delicate thread, using metaphors as a vehicle to examine the dark yet human aspects of silence and survival.

The 105 minute production begins from the moment the audience enter the theatre. Thousands of slate chippings cover the floor as five performers who are already in position shield their face from the audience, as if hiding from the world. Professional artists including a clown, an aerialist and a classical cellist, join performers from The Progression Group, Tameside Centre for Women and their Families and The Conversation Club, to act out individual stories which portal the darker, human aspects of our existence. Almost the entire production is played out in silence, with sound effects and musical accompaniment from the cellist – who at one point even plays a saw – providing the atmosphere, breaking the otherwise deafening silence.

Art is central to the production. At one point, an artist is suspended from the ceiling, creating a piece of live artwork in front of the audience using just chalk and powder. The production is also incredibly immersive. The audience join the circle not only as an audience but as participants, actively watching each other’s responses and feeling their energy. Some are amused and bewildered, others are fascinated and intrigued, but all of them are engrossed.

LITTLE SISTER is also one of most visually striking pieces I have seen in a long time, with the director making good use of light and sound to create vivid associated images. The finale in which the cast pull on strings to turn a young performer into a beautiful bird spreading her wings, is incredibly impressive and one which leaves a lasting effect.

The Royal Exchange Theatre is known for taking artistic risks and LITTLE SISTER certainly fits that criteria. While the odd and abstract nature of the production will not appeal to everyone, its ambitious and bold collaborations make it something special. If the rapturous applause by the audience is anything to go by, they believe its something special too.

4 out of 5 stars

LITTLE SISTER runs at Royal Exchange Theatre until 7 August