REVIEW: THE OTHER HALF (White Bear Theatre) ★★★

This short, one-act play, explores how family history still affects us all, as understanding our childhood experiences helps us know who we are and why we do the things we do. Writer and director Francessca Charlemagne has devised the play in collaboration with the cast, Lauren Leppard and Shannon Assaf.

Leppard plays older sister Iris who we meet as her life is spiralling out of control with a relationship breakup, a custody battle, and mental health issues all weighing heavily. Assaf plays younger sister, Amara, who has taken on the parenting role of her big sister in the absence of any functional parenting from their actual mum and dad. As the sisters talk about their state of mind, more is revealed about their past, and the very different impacts their shared history has had on who they are.

There is not much narrative beyond the establishment of the relationship between the sisters, the focus is entirely on how they have coped so differently with their childhood traumas and yet maintained a close bond so that they can support each other. Their childhood sounds dysfunctional, without ever venturing into darker territory or being abusive but clearly unresolved issues have left open wounds that current events have prodded at.

The relationship between the two sisters certainly feels real and aside from a few minor slips, both actors deliver the emotional impact required in a naturalistic way (never crossing the line into something more over the top). The believable performances help draw the audience in, mixing humour and emotional punch where needed and generally with good timing. Straightforward and simple design and lighting adds to the sense of realism.

Charlemagne’s message seems to be that unresolved issues from our childhoods can easily come back to wreak havoc when new events pick at those emotional scars. When that happens, we need to rely on the support of others and find new carers to replace those who have previously failed us. This limited outlook is effectively dealt with and is delivered in a believable way but does not stretch our understanding or reveal anything new or revelatory.

Reviewed by Kris Witherington

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