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Sisters, Such Devoted Sisters

Russell Barr
The Drill Hall
(2006)

Publicity photo

Perhaps I should start by saying that I doubt I saw the best performance of Sisters, Such Devoted Sisters. Friday night was obviously Russell Barr fan club night, and Barr corpsed his way through most of the performance. Perhaps a fit of the giggles is more forgiveable in a performer playing the part of tragi-comic transvestite, but it made for a dull experience for the rest of us.

More disappointing was the fact that the corpsing episodes were actually the closest the audience (fan club apart) came to empathising with Barr; as club transvestite Bernice Hindley, the self-styled niece of Myra, there were precious few opportunities for the audience to connect with him. Tales of grim back alley living on the streets of Glasgow, of unspeakable violence, paedophile uncles and incestuous sexual awakenings do not convince in the mouth of a performer whose lips are still twitching from his last bout of out-of-character laughter.

(Hopefully uncharacteristically) poor performance aside, Barr's writing is of the so-shocking-it's-barely-credible, in-yer-face school of 1990s homosexual/transsexual/transvestite sexual revelation. Had Sisters been staged then, it would doubtless have turned heads, and with good reason. The graphic imagery Barr uses to narrate Bernice's life on the seamy side of Glaswegian show biz are well-crafted, if the style of performance is somewhat ill-at-ease with its staging, with disperate elements of theatre, stand-up and cabaret left hanging and unresolved.

Set the piece in a seamy cabaret club and it might gain credibility, but ultimately there is no getting away from the fact that this kind of out-to-shock exposé was done to death in the '90s and simply no longer shocks. Theatre has grown up since then, and while the subjects of sexual exploitation and sexual violence are still in need of exploration, what is needed now is theatre which explores them in depth, not a dated, sensationalist re-exposition of the gory facts without analysis. At times, the graphic sexual imagery of Barr's piece borders on the offensive simply because it seems to serve no other purpose. Barr is clearly a writer of talent, but he has not harnessed it to effect in Sisters, Such Devoted Sisters and the result is a disappointing evening in the theatre.

11-15, 18-22, 25-29 October 2006

Reviewer: Louise Hill