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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

You and Me
The Blue Elephant Theatre
4th April 2013


Patricia Rodriguez

Photography © Pau Ros

Originally a play about an elderly couple, director Bryony Shanahan has adapted Roger Simeon's play Tu i Jo into a piece about two unnamed aging spinsters (Patricia Rodriguez and Mercè Ribot), who have spent their whole lives together. With plenty of character quirks, nonsensical in-jokes, fond reminiscences and daft fantasies, the two sisters seek happiness in each other's company, as a way of passing the time, more than anything else.

For a performance about old age, You and Me is surprisingly funny. The actors have a credible sisterly dynamic, and both manage to add decades to their ages through subtle mannerisms. They both have a gift for comedy, with Rodriguez in particular contorting her face wonderfully into a number of hilarious expressions. When the younger sister resigns herself into having to live forever as a bit of a favour to the rest of the world, Rodriguez and Ribot work together seamlessly to execute a well-considered piece of physical theatre.

As the piece progresses however, it becomes more and more apparent that the older sister is not just a belligerent old woman, but also an unwell one. Her use of repetition is a tic and her forgetfulness another sign of mental deterioration. Her sister is outwardly jovial, batting off all negativity, but is struggling to carry the burden of being the sole caregiver. There is no mention of friends or family coming round to lighten the load, and when someone dares knock at their door, it sends them both into a panic, and they pretend not to be there. Life for the sisters means the two of them against the world. It's a Whatever Happened to Baby Jane scenario if Jane and Blanche loved, rather than despised, each other.

The use of song throughout is powerful, and a really nice touch from Shanahan. Not only do these famous Catalan and Spanish protest songs nod at the performers' heritage, but the lyrics reflect the deep-seating yearning of their characters. Flitting between moments of lucidity and confusion, Ribot carries the melodies of L'estaca and Santa Bárbara, ably supported by Rodriguez. Their duetting is beautiful, with lyrics reinforcing the desire for freedom and a homecoming. In light of how the dementia is cruelly forcing the sisters apart, it's a heartbreaking choice of words.

Merce Ribot and Patricia Rodriguez

Photography © Pau Ros

The set design comes down to two chairs and a whole lot of clutter, accumulated and categorised over the years. Sophia Simensky's set suggests both order and chaos, thoughtfully reflective of the sisters' relationship and states of mind.

Much of the plot boils down to two women talking to each other, but that's not to say the script doesn't go anywhere, it does have a very satisfying conclusion. It brings together the various elements of the production, both Shanahan and Simeon's work, twisting each part into a poignant revelation.

There is often the temptation for directors to change things for the sake of it, but here Shanahan has helped make You and Me a much more personal piece for Little Soldier Productions and yet been respectful of the original work. She's really added value and of course, the original playwright is to be commended for allowing her that freedom.

Both funny and tender, You and Me is a well considered piece which takes some difficult themes and makes them thoroughly entertaining.

You and Me ran from 2nd to 27th April 2013 at the Blue Elephant Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Oval (Northern)

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