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Sister's, Seagulls and Sendoffs - Published Reviews

Sisters, seagulls and sendoffs

Haylo Theatre’s Sisters Seagulls and Sendoffs, at Chester Storyhouse – Review

“Life is made up of so many moments, the wonderfully happy times and incredibly sad, these moments are what life is made of, they are our story.” After these words, Hayley Riley and Louise Evans become their characters: Penny and Beth, respectively. Our protagonists are sisters who are about as different as siblings can be; Penny is comically bubbly and animated, while Beth is more reserved with a drier sense of humour. However, they both share a deep love for their father. When their father suddenly dies, it’s up to them to pick up both the figurative and literal pieces. In creating two contrasting characters, Haylo have cleverly presented two distinct ways of expressing grief.

In one of the key scenes, the two sisters are going through their father’s old things in the family home, deciding what to keep. Penny gets excited about everything she finds, even the items she’s never seen before; she wants to keep everything. This chirpy behaviour grates on Beth, who is visibly suffering and wants to get the whole ordeal out of the way. She aggressively enquires as to why her sister is so happy. It turns out she isn’t; of course, they’re both suffering. It’s common knowledge that people grieve in different ways, but it gives us pause to watch two characters trying to understand each other’s grief – especially of the same person, at the same time.

The set is kept to a minimum, while the clever use of props – in true Haylo fashion – breathes a creative quirkiness to the story. The central setting is the family home, where different items take us to different events in the girls’, and their father’s, life. From their parents’ first meeting on a blind date, to the father’s funeral, to Beth’s wedding – bittersweet due to dad’s absence – we hear a variety of stories. A particularly effective moment is when the sisters receive the unexpected news of their father’s passing. A doctor tells them, but we don’t hear any words. They sit facing the audience, as if we are the ones breaking it to them, and we see the shock and anguish engulf them, almost in slow motion. Beth looks pained and terror-struck, while Penny seems to fall into a numb trance; almost collapsing out of her chair, but for being caught by her sister.

Scenes like this might be difficult to watch for some, especially those for which grief is all too familiar, yet the nature of the whole piece is actually rather comforting. We return to the opening words: “Life is made up of so many moments, the wonderfully happy times and incredibly sad…” A simple but important line in the play is “it’s okay not to feel okay.” We all have our own unique stories. As the sisters tell us: were anyone in the audience to see their dad in the street, we wouldn’t look twice. But to them, he was a huge presence – now a massive gap – in their lives. So while it might seem like we’re suffering alone, it’s a process everyone goes through; just like the wonderfully happy times. And although we’re in pain, although we’re broken – it’s okay.

This was the first public performance of Sisters, Seagulls and Sendoffs, and the setting was perfect. Chester Storyhouse’s Garrett stage is an intimate setting, which seats 150, and on Friday 27th October, Riley and Evans made it work to their full advantage. It would be interesting to see it in a different setting – bigger or smaller – to witness what effects this would have. I hope they take it to Edinburgh, as they did with Over the Garden Fence, to show it to a wider audience.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017: Over the Garden Fence Review

Seamless. The word that sums up Haylo Theatre’s ‘Over the Garden Fence’ in one.

Take all your perceptions of Dementia – ‘the disease that makes you go barmy, loopy and eccentric’ – and swipe them under the carpet. Actually no, screw that. Pick them up and lob them out the window as far as you can possibly throw them. That’s exactly what Haylo Theatre did.

A story about memories, family and friendships, the play is nothing short of a beautiful masterpiece. Stunningly written, flawlessly performed and without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of my Edinburgh Fringe experience.

Putting a spin on things, the incredibly talented duo told the journey of Dementia as though it was a library. Likening our minds to a fragile library where all of our memories, beliefs and emotions are stored as books. Some yellow, some missing pages and some slightly tattered, but all in a place where only we know where we put them.

Set up in a tiny studio, just off Infirmary Street, the performance was an incredibly intimate experience. Only arms length away from the performers and with nothing but a small coffee table and a couple of make-shift garden fences, it felt as though I was part of the performance and the play was about my life. And how true that was.

Striking a chord with every emotion, the performance pulled on each and every heart string and stirred feelings I didn’t even know I had. From tears of laughter at Hayley’s remarkable ability to nail every single punchline – the dog and the diet was my favourite one – but don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you. To then a stream, in fact scrap that a flood, of tears of happiness as many of my own personal memories were uprooted.

After losing my Grandad Jim, the ‘Big Fella’ as we always used to call him, a couple of years ago to the disease, Dementia is a subject which lies extremely close to my heart. The nattering neighbours, the hopeless social workers and the fungal toe infection, they were all things my family had experienced all too often.

Not quite knowing what to expect, I wasn’t sure whether ‘Dementia’ and everything that came with it was something I’d rather forget – as ironic as that sounds. How wrong I was. In fact, it completely changed how I felt. Written with so much thought, many of the lines stayed with me long after the show, with one in particular. The opening line, ‘What if the things we remember are more real than the things we see’, so perfectly told by ‘Annabelle’ played by the talented Hayley Riley has stayed with me long after Saturday’s performance.

Watching the show, my Grandad’s cheeky smile, his gentlemen ways and his belly-laughing stories felt more real than ever. The moment Louise Evans, who simultaneously played Grandma and Grandad, re-enacted the first time they met sent shivers down my spine and filled me with tears for the rest of the performance. Her ability to swap and change from one character to another was not only commendable but utterly faultless.

Throughout the performance, I felt as as though my own Grandad was standing right in front telling me the stories all over again. But, this time even more crisp and certainly even more funnier. The story in the play of burnt turkey at Christmas reminded me of my favourite story; the donkey and the newsagent. The time my Grandad ‘borrowed’ a donkey from the field and placed it inside the corner shop to distract the newsagent, while he leant over the counter to swipe a packet of cigarettes. He always liked to miss out the bits that happened after that.

That story always reminded me that he never forgot. He just always picked his ‘favourite book off the shelf’ every time I went to see him. He didn’t waste his time trying to prove to me he could ‘remember the Prime Minister’s address’ as the play perfectly put. Instead, he spent every single time telling me I’d put on weight and that my face had ‘filled out a lot more since last time’ (that’s made me chuckle). I loved his honesty, however brutal it may have sounded at the time.

Weirdly or weirdly not, the play gave me closure. It made me realise something I guess I couldn’t understand at the time as he was slowly affected by the ‘disease’. It’s not a disease and it’s not something we should be scared of. Yes, sometimes he forgot the time and he forgot that he had already eaten his bread and butter pudding and couldn’t have another one (all tactics to get a second helping if you ask me). But as the play beautifully showed, these memories are irrelevant, he had much more funnier memories that took up more space.

Overall, the play which was executed so well didn’t leave a dry eye in the house – and rightly so. Ending with a standing ovation, the play was an incredible experience and a credit to Hayley and Louise who absolutely outdone themselves.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017: Over the Garden Fence Review

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