Two Sisters

Feb 16 2024 | By More

★★★☆☆     Wistful

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Sat 10 Feb – Sat 2 Mar 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson.

Two Sisters at the Lyceum until the beginning of March, is a touching and well-observed piece that is ultimately too diffuse.

David Greig’s new play – his first for the Lyceum since becoming its artistic director – is a co-production with Malmö Stadsteater, and is a bittersweet exploration of youth, memory and growing older.

Jess Hardwick and Shauna Macdonald. Pic: Jess Shurte.

Amy (Shauna Macdonald) and Emma (Jess Hardwick) return to Holiday Heaven, the caravan site where they stayed as teenagers 25 years earlier. As lawyer Emma tries to write, and older sister Amy deals with turmoil in her marriage, they re-encounter caretaker/DJ Lance (Erik Olsson), who has been at the site all this time.

As the title hints, this (like last year’s Lyceum season-opener Group Portrait in a Summer Landscape) has definite echoes of Chekhov, in its tragicomic depiction of nostalgia, lost ideals and faded dreams. There are also some subtle, humorous nods to the Russian, from the setting (a countryside dacha becoming a static caravan on the Fife coast) to a clever evocation of the maxim of Chekhov’s gun.

This is very definitely a Scottish play, however; its faded-resort setting will nevertheless have a more universal appeal. As well as the three principals, the play features a rotating cast of young performers, who play teenage holidaymakers as well as acting as a kind of Greek chorus. They also give voice to the audience’s own teenage memories as written on pre-show questionnaires.

focus and clarity

There is certainly a bite to much of the dialogue, and Wils Wilson’s direction is notable for its focus and clarity. However, it proceeds at a pace that could charitably be described as stately. Even with an early start, this goes on till nearly 10 o’clock, and in the second half particularly it certainly feels every moment of its length, with the same ground being gone over more than once.

Erik Olsson. Pic: Jess Shurte.

The epic running time means that many of the observations – wistful or trenchant as they undoubtedly can be – are spread somewhat thin. The portrait of ageing and of lost adolescent dreams accordingly comes over as very wide but not particularly deep.

There can be no denying the quality of the performances, however. Shauna Macdonald plays the ‘broken’ Amy with intensity, humour and sympathy, and the result is a thoroughly human figure.


There is considerable nuance, too, to Jess Hardwick’s Emma. Outwardly more satisfied, there is nevertheless a deep sadness to the character that Hardwick suggests subtly and with great success. There is also a chemistry between the two that makes their relationship, and all its history, entirely plausible.

The character of Lance (very much the ageing hippy) does not always bear the weight of the dreams placed upon him by the others, but Olsson’s performance is a cheerful one of surprising subtlety.

Shauna Macdonald. Pic: Jess Shurte.

The young chorus are also extremely impressive, both in playing smaller roles and in commenting on the action. The ‘interactive’ sections using the audience’s memories are often touching but never quite cohere with the rest of the play. Similarly, using the chorus to dress Lisbeth Burian’s suitably distressed set helps move things along – although not always enough. Portraying languor, listlessness and ennui on stage is one thing, but you do not want the audience to keep wishing things would hurry up a bit.

poetic element

There is undoubtedly a poetic element to proceedings, a regretfulness that is well served both by Wilson’s direction and Janice Parker’s movement direction. MJ McCarthy’s music, and the use of a variety of pop songs – both achingly evocative and unforgivably cheesy – also provides atmosphere.

In the end, however, the pangs of nostalgia are only intermittently felt in a production whose epic length works against the claustrophobic nature of its preoccupations.

Running time: Two hours and 50 minutes (including one interval).
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay St, EH9 3AX
Saturday 10 February – Saturday 2 March 2024
Tues – Sat at 7pm; Matinees Wed & Sat at 2pm
Details and tickets: Book here.

The cast of Two Sisters. Pic: Jess Shurte.


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