Underbelly, Cowgate

We first became aware of writer Max Dickins’ work at last year’s fringe when we happened upon his brilliant monologue, The Man on the Moor, and marked him as a name to watch out for in the future. With Kin, he steps away from the performance side of things, but the power of his writing is evident in every line of this excellent drama, which concentrates on the story of two estranged sisters, brought together by the imminent death of their equally estranged father.

The action occurs in a single room of the father’s American home. Lily (Kate Alderton) is already there, dutifully preparing for his demise, when Sarah (Abigail Burdess) arrives, jet-lagged and cranky, to lend a hand. The father remains an off-stage presence, only intermittently heard via a strategically placed baby alarm – but his belongings litter the stage and help to draw a picture of the man. It quickly becomes clear that the two sisters do not really get on: they haven’t seen each other for two decades; something happened back in their teenage years to drive a wedge between them. Lily is married, a stay-at-home mother with two children; Sarah is a fierce loner who has devoted her life to her career. They are worlds apart, and yet they shared so much when they were young. As the hours pass, we learn about the events that have driven them apart, about the bitter rivalries that time has failed to erase –  and our first impressions of the two women are cleverly undermined. We come to understand that what we think we know about them may not be as straightforward as we initially suppose.

The script crackles and spits with dark invective – Sarah’s dialogue in particular is unflinchingly brutal and hilarious in its insistence on making no compromises, taking no prisoners. The performances of both actors are first rate and, by the play’s highly emotive conclusion, it’s clear that the tears being shed onstage go far beyond mere acting.

If you enjoy powerful theatre about family dynamics, get yourselves to the Underbelly with all haste and catch this one.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

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