Based on the Spanish absurdist drama Tu I Jo by Roger Simeon, Patrícia Rodríguez & Mercè Ribot play a pair of elderly sisters cut off from the world in this trilingual adaptation. By turns wisecracking and tender, dark and silly, loquacious and sullen, their conversations in English, Catalan and Spanish form the beating core of this production. Rodriguez is an incredible actress who inhabits her caregiver role with complexity and a diffident resignation. Ribot, as the younger sister caught in the throes of dementia, segues smoothly between moments of helplessness and unexpected luminescence. Through a combination of studied speech and physical tics – all hunched backs and slow movements – both young actresses convincingly transform into bickering septuagenarians.
The standout sequence, where Rodriguez narrates and simulates her entire death and funeral whilst Ribot supports as pallbearer and the hysterical bereaved, is a compelling masterstroke of physical comedy. It is the best five minutes of the entire production, and manages to humorously encapsulate all the fear, absurdity and pathos of old age, and also to convey the defiance and belligerence of Rodriguez’s character. Other movement sequences, such as when the creaking sisters get up and do a ridiculous dance or set off a shower of confetti, tend to verge on shallow camp and are less successful in delivering anything more than superficial laughs. However, some of the lighter moments, invoking the minutiae of daily life and daily bickers, manage to gently offset the melancholy undertone of the production. Director Bryony Shanahan does a fine job of making both actresses dominate and disrupt the theatrical space, no more than lamps and a circle of boxes, around two armchairs. Sophia Simensky’s set design is functional, nostalgia-tinged and surprisingly clever – a moment of chaos is climatically enacted by a clattering flood of marbles.
The fraught and oftentimes nonsensical interplay between the sisters is handled realistically and affectionately by Simeon’s script, which is warm and well written, although it presents nothing new or unexpected on its themes of aging, death, regret, isolation and reluctant companionship. Instead it chooses to navigate these issues with intelligence and universality, managing to deliver an audience experience that is both bittersweet and satisfying, although lacking novelty. Nonetheless, the new and unexpected is not always necessary and for its purposes, You and Me manages to present aging and a complex sibling relationship in a sensitive and evocative way: delivering on audience expectations and making you engage and empathise fully with the characters. It is a competent and oftentimes hilarious two-hander which is aware of its focus and what it wants to evoke; veering more toward a personal and emotional scope rather than a more cerebral and provocative exploration of lifelong relationships and the debilitating effects of illness. Rodriguez anchors the play as the beleaguered older sister, and her standout performance when she thinks her sister has passed away in her sleep is expertly rendered without resorting to amateur hysterics, her reaction is heartrending and totally believable, going from shock, despair and anguish into something resembling relief.
You and Me played at Rich Mix on 1 and 2 June. For more information on Little Solider Productions see their website.