Writer: Sara Shaarawi
Director: Caitlin Skinner
Some find comfort in familiarity. Others something more ominous.
They say nothing to one another but allow the dulcet tones of the radio to fill their silences. Reading one another’s tea leaves, sisters Fatemah and Shirin have their patterns, so much so they never feel the need to speak their thoughts – that is, unless one of them buys some junk from the local antique store. But in capturing the tenderness of these two sisters who have lived together across four decades, Sister Radio upheaves the experiences they have shared, and the trials they have faced.
But time is fleeting here, and as the clock begins to run dry for one of the sisters, this two-hander by Sara Shaarawi reverses the present to offer an intimate look at the relationship these sisters shared, from the highs to the crippling lows. From Shirin’s arrival in Edinburgh to follow in her sister’s footsteps to the ultimate betrayal that leads to their extended anguish and unspoken resentment – it’s a powerful piece which has few words but mountains to say.
Located in Scotland’s newest performance space at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre studio, which after decades of intention finally emerges in its pristine, intimate, and remarkably well-constructed setting. The height of which plays a tremendous part in enabling Becky Minto’s design to stretch into the rafters to convey that old town Edinburgh stature, which captures the distressing reality of ageing under the surface of this production. Dwarfing the pair, Minto’s initially quaint and colour-coded flat becomes cold, oppressive, and prisonlike in its uniformity.
Outside of the pleasantries and day-to-day complaints, much of the communication between the sisters is communicated within Lanna Joffrey and Nalân Burgess’ expressions and reactions to the actions of the other, Joffrey an exquisite example of possessing a look which says a thousand things. The split of time means the pair shift their physicality to covey the decades of difference, Burgess slowing their movement, Joffrey hunching and curdling their expressive reactions, altering the intonation of voice under Caitlin Skinner’s direction.
And where silence is a weapon of the present for these sisters, their communication is more coherent and vocalised in the past – particularly from Burgess’ initially more energetic and excitable pestering of her sister’s life outside of Tehran. And where Fatemah’s more restrictive and humbler lifestyle sits at unease with Shirin’s lustre for flourish freedom of choice, feminism and Farsi poetry serve to reflect the rising Islamic revolution and transition of power occurring in Iran, setting the backdrop of the discomforting truth that their lives in Scotland contrast that of home. Composed with original music from Farzane Zamen, an Iranian musician based in Glasgow, the sounds of Sister Radio take a large part in the symbolic storytelling – from the reminiscences of their home country to the static radio crooning songs of the era.
The Stellar Quines co-production places the danger of isolation at the forefront, irrespective of hurt or family ties, that shackling we to a chain of memories often in silence, burdens those at either end more than they anticipated. Sister Radio, a two-woman two-hander production has the honour of opening the Pitlochry studio space and feels like a remarkably intimate piece to claim this fitting and deserving right.
Runs at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre Studio until 28 September 2022 and then tours.