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The Tyler Sisters, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs review – raucous celebration of sisterhood | reviews, news & interviews

The Tyler Sisters, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs review – raucous celebration of sisterhood

The Tyler Sisters, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs review – raucous celebration of sisterhood

Quick-witted new play tackles a sibling bond in snapshots over 40 years

Best when they're bouncing off each other: Caroline Faber, Bryony Hannah and Angela Griffin in 'The Tyler Sisters'Robert Day

The Tyler sisters start as they mean to go on: bickering. Middle sister Gail (Bryony Hannah) has come home from uni to find that youngest Katrina (Angela Griffin) has stolen her room. “What about Maddy’s? Why didn’t you take that?” Gail snaps. “She’s in it,” Katrina points out. “I am in it, to be fair,” confirms eldest Maddy (Caroline Faber), trying her best not to take sides. “I am actually in it.”

A traditional family drama might have maintained this dynamic throughout – so often in plays and television series, we see the same feuds arising between the same siblings in later life – even as the sisters have become grown women by the end of this lovely new play, premiering at the Hampstead Downstairs. Writer Alexandra Wood and director Abigail Graham plot a different course: allegiances shift, old rivalries are abandoned and taken up again. The marketing blurb refers to the “deep and unruly waters of sisterhood,” reflected in Naomi Kuyck-Cohen’s deceptively simple set: blue paint laps at the walls, dotted here and there with glow-in-the-dark stars. 

Angela Griffin in 'The Tyler Sisters' The sisters lap at each other too, touching and cuddling often, constantly speaking over themselves. We follow them through four decades of their lives, each scene a snapshot of a year. Wood’s inspiration was Nicholas Nixon’s The Brown Sisters: a series of photographs of his wife, Bebe, and her three sisters, also taken over 40 years. Sometimes the lines between image and scene blur: a 30-second Wii Boxing match between Maddy and Katrina, hard-fought and hilarious, is the only record of 2006, like a random photograph stuffed down the back of an album. 

Griffin (right) is equally convincing early, as a bratty teenager, and later, as a witty-yet-vulnerable single mum. Her suggestions for the sisters revenge on Gail’s cheating boyfriend are a highlight: “I’ve got a whole list. They might not be original ideas, but if it gets the job done, what’s it matter?” Hannah takes longer to warm up, but she hits her stride – literally, zooming around the stage on bright purple roller skates. Faber makes quiet Maddy’s inevitable explosion devastating. But like real sisters, all three are best, and most plausible as siblings, when they’re bouncing off each other. A rousing karaoke performance of the Backstreet Boys ‘I Want It That Way’ is the most fun I've had in ages. 

Some of the scenes end disappointingly, or go on a touch too long; the last ends with a whimper rather than a bang. But maybe that’s the point: life doesn’t come with neat punchlines. And what this play has, more than anything, is life.

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