Search

Death, family and not a man in sight –The Etienne Sisters at Stratford Theatre

PUBLISHED: 08:00 06 September 2015

The Etienne Sisters stars (from left) nina Toussaint-White, Jennifer Saayeng, Nikki Yeoh and Allyson Ava-Brown

The Etienne Sisters stars (from left) nina Toussaint-White, Jennifer Saayeng, Nikki Yeoh and Allyson Ava-Brown

Theatre Royal Stratford East

“There’s not a man on stage. Just three women and a pianist.”

Allyson Ava-brown as Bo (left), Jennifer Saayeng as Ree (right) and Nina Toussaint-White as Tree. Picture: Robert Day.Allyson Ava-brown as Bo (left), Jennifer Saayeng as Ree (right) and Nina Toussaint-White as Tree. Picture: Robert Day.

Award-winning playwright Ché Walker has set himself a new challenge with his latest performance project, The Etienne Sisters, coming to the Theatre Royal Stratford East this month.

“I was very keen to do something with a female cast and to explore that. There’s a dearth of writing for women and particularly for working class women,” said Ché, who wrote and directed the play.

“I do a lot of teaching and often I’m teaching groups and one of the groups is made up of mostly women and we are always struggling to find plays – they are always playing boys.”

The play sees three sisters united by grief after their mother dies. But it’s not long before cracks begin to appear between Tree and Ree and their estranged half-sister Bo, whose wild ways recall ancient divisions.

Allyson Ava-brown as Bo (front) and Jennifer Saayeng as Ree in rehearsals. Picture: Robert DayAllyson Ava-brown as Bo (front) and Jennifer Saayeng as Ree in rehearsals. Picture: Robert Day

Described as a crime thriller with a family drama at its heart, the 90-minute show stars Allyson Ava-brown as Bo, Jennifer Saayeng as Ree and Nina Toussaint-White as Tree.

It includes songs written by Anoushka Lucas and Sheila Atim, with musical director Nikki Yeoh on piano. But despite having musical numbers throughout, Ché is adamant The Etienne Sisters is not a musical.

“I’m a huge fan of musicals but they tend to wrap everything up in a bow at the end. This doesn’t quite fit that fold,” he said.

“It’s a play with songs, definitely not a musical. There’s something much more organic and there aren’t big belter numbers, they are quite jazzy, soulful numbers.

Allyson Ava-brown sings in rehearsals, accompanied by musical director Nikki Yeoh on piano. Picture: Robert DayAllyson Ava-brown sings in rehearsals, accompanied by musical director Nikki Yeoh on piano. Picture: Robert Day

“They don’t tend to end with big explosions for rounds of applause, we feed them back into the play. They rise up out the scene and then slip back down.”

Ché’s first debut as a writer was with Been So Long in 1998 at the Royal Court Theatre. It was turned into a musical in 2009 at the Young Vic and was nominated for the Ned Sherrin Award in the Evening Standard Theatre awards that year.

He also wrote Flesh Wound, which won him the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright, and The Frontline, the first contemporary-set new play to be performed at Shakespeare’s Globe in the modern era.

When not writing and directing, Camden-based Ché can be found treading the boards himself.

As for a reason to go see his play, the renaissance man is self-deprecating: “It’s short so you will be out in time to get home,” before adding: “It’s funny, it’s moving, it’s dramatic, It’s a real challenge for three actors/singers and the music is very pulsating and swinging and jazzy and sultry and soulful.

• Tickets cost between £7 and £22.50. Book online at stratfordeast.com or call the box office on 020 8534 0310.


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Newham Recorder. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Newham Recorder