Feathers – Hen and Chickens Theatre, London
Would you trust your sister with your husband? Of course you would, she’s your sister, and of all people you can trust your family… can’t you? Not if you look at TV dramas or the more sensationalist women’s magazines that regularly show cheating siblings and wrecked marriages, but this is far from a new story.
Feathers by Eliza Power, based on a well-known Greek myth, has been revived at the Hen and Chickens Theatre to consider just this kind of sisterly rivalry.
After years apart, Marisa has agreed to let sister Edie come to stay for a while in an attempt to build bridges and put the past behind them. Initially, all seems well and the nervous Edie seems happy, even snagging herself a lovely new boyfriend called Nathan. But Marisa has problems of her own and when her fractious marriage to Dan starts to crack even more and a serious accusation is made, just who is telling the truth?
Based on Ovid’s story of Tereus, Procne and Philomela, the core themes of Power’s 2010 play are clearly signposted in director Milla Jackson’s interpretation. Contrasting ideas of masculinity are well conveyed by the quite opposite characters of the caring Nathan and the permanently angry Dan, while the creation of Edie walks a thin line between sanity and mental illness. One of the most successful elements of this new production is never being quite sure who to believe, even at the somewhat abrupt end.
It feels less dynamic than it could, however, and the tension could build more convincingly to the key moment of drama – the subject of which will be familiar to those who know the original myth or have engaged in the recent Poldark controversy. When the scene comes it’s handled extremely well by the actors leaving enough room for doubt and blame on both sides, as well as nicely picking up on earlier hints about Edie’s lies and Dan’s aggressive nature.
At other times, though, the play flounders as some scenes take too long to get to the point, or suffer from a slight staginess that distracts from the action. Largely this is because the acting has too little variation across scenes, so while Ben Mann’s bullish and shouty Dan’s pitch of anger seems too much at the start, it fits much better later in the play when he really has something to complain about. Similarly, Carrie Marx gives Marisa a slightly patronising tone throughout, which works well when she’s sniping at her husband but seems less appropriate when chatting with her friend or trying to resurrect a relationship with her sister.
Eleanor Wright gives the best performance as Edie, who switches from vulnerable to confident, powerful to weakened quite easily and helps to engage the audience in the story, keeping us guessing throughout. Nathan, played by Joshua Boyd-Campbell, is sweet and protective, although Michelle Neil’s role as Marisa’s friend seems entirely superfluous to the plot.
While based on ancient myth, Power’s play also has much in common with Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire as the triangular relationship between a married couple and a somewhat fragile, artistic sister plays out. And while this production of Feathers has much to offer, particularly towards the end, the actors do need to think carefully about pacing their emotional responses and how to build sufficient tension to make that ambiguous ending all the more powerful.
Runs until 27 November 2016