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ROUNDABOUT, the brainchild of highly admired theatre company Paines Plough, is not only a touring company but a portable theatre-in-the-round which can be erected in the remotest of places.
It is currently in situ right under the walls of the Theatre Royal Stratford East and Daughterhood is just one piece in its repertoire.
At first “Sisterhood” would seem a better title, for it’s about the relationship between two sisters. But then we see how the pair are forever locked into the roles created for them by their parents and perceptions change.
Their mother abandoned them and their father — now suffering from dementia and requiring full-time care — has burdened them both with self-defining names.
Pauline is Little Miss Helpful while Rachel is Little Miss Sunshine and the two girls, now grown up, seem to spend their lives being what these names suggest.
Pauline gives up a career to be her father’s full-time carer, while Rachel flits about in the big wide world, returning home only intermittently with a burst of energy and a fabricated glow. Daughterhood, we are to understand, is a life sentence.
Charley Miles, a highly accomplished and fluent writer, provides moments of riveting poetry in her play, as when Pauline, played with beautiful sensitivity by Charlotte Bate, compares herself to a suffering, beached whale.
Yet elsewhere the dialogue dissolves into streams of bickering that delay the action and even neutralise the drama. Atmosphere seems hard to conjure when every space is filled with words.
But this is minimalist theatre put to good use, with no set, props, or costume changes. There’s just a bare stage, some lighting, occasional sound and three actors playing all the parts, with constant flashbacks flesh out the narrative.
Charlotte Bale and Charlotte O’Leary as the sisters circle each other endlessly like prowling tigers and Toyin Omari-Kinch convinces in his many different roles, with his voice and posture alone providing clues not only to who he is but where and when the scene is happening.
At times, with no visual clues to help, the shifting locations and time frames confuse, though director Stef O’Driscoll does her best.
Producers Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd are to be commended for producing original grassroots theatre like this — it’s about real people living real lives after and that has universal resonance.
Runs until October 26, box office: stratfordeast.com.
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