The Stirling Players
Stirling Community Theatre
Until 21 Mar 2020

Review by Sarah Westgarth

It is always refreshing when a local theatre company chooses to stage an Australian play, and a contemporary one at that. First published in 2003 and written by Alma de Groen, “Wicked Sisters” takes place during one intense, emotional night. After the death of her husband, the celebrated scientist Alec Hobbs, Meridee invites her three estranged friends from university, now all in their fifties, to stay the weekend at her home in the Blue Mountains. The four women were once close, but time and choices and distance has left a disconnect. Over wine and cheese and smoked salmon they reminisce about old times, share regrets, and reflect on where life has taken them. As the drinks flow and the night gets later, honesty begins to rear its head, and the complex nature of their relationships to each other and to Alec is revealed.

The play is a fraught exploration of the female experience, and the erosion of spirit that can occur when a person’s individual value and contribution is cast aside. On the surface, these women could appear as caricatures—the blonde real estate agent with a young boyfriend, the wealthy PR consultant who touts the glory of plastic surgery, the radical feminist who doesn’t own a house—but the script never treats them flippantly or as punchlines. Even jokes at their expense are self-aware and have something to say about how these women view their own worth and each other’s.

Director Megan Dansie has assembled a strong cast to carry this off, with Petra Schulenburg in particular delivering a powerhouse performance as Meridee. Her poise and grace conceal a tightly coiled pain, and this is clear in every nuanced move she makes. She commands the stage at all times, and her final climactic moments are a masterclass in authentic character work. April Stuart as Judith takes a while to warm up, but she soars in the second act. Tracey Korsten as Hester is excellent; her portrayal has a natural warmth to it, and while she’s the source a lot of the initial comedy, she really sinks her teeth into more complex material in one of the play’s strongest twists. Deborah Walsh as Lydia has a few stumbles, but gets some good laughs and shines when Lydia’s deeper sadness is explored.

As an ensemble, their responses and reactions to each other feel genuine; you really believe in these relationships, and all that they have been through. The pain feels raw. Dansie has directed the proceedings solidly, without any unnecessary stage business to take away from the heart of what is going on. This is not a play that is hugely plot driven, but the drama comes from the interactions between the characters and the story that unfolds there. The pace does have a tendency to drag a little at times, and while the comedy is quite sharp, it can also be jarring, especially when the night turns grimmer; the jokes begin to feel out of place and the tone inconsistent. The play doesn’t always nail the balance of the sombre and the silly, but the times that it works far outweigh the times that it doesn’t.

“Wicked Sisters” plays beautifully as a modern ensemble piece that touches on some complex ideas about sacrifice, living according to our values, and the things by which you can measure a life. It has been tenderly written, directed and acted, with some real stirring moments. Not every joke works, and not every emotional moment lands, but it is gripping enough with some truly stellar performances to carry it through. On opening night there were audible gasps, big laughs, and sincere tears. It’s a show that’s well worth your time.