Retelling famed fiction seems to en vogue right now: you only need to look at Netflix or a Sky guide to see reams of spin off or ‘inspired by’ tales: Bates Motel, Sherlock, and even the extension of the Star Wars franchise – old is the new new. And it seems theatre hasn’t escaped this: perhaps the runaway success of Wicked provides comforting hope in the hearts of producers seeing more and more ventures fail. When The Ugly Sisters rolled around, we have to admit, we approached with caution, and maybe even a roll of the eye.
How wrong we were.
Billed as a riotous cabaret retelling of the story you think you know (sound familiar?) The Ugly Sisters features Emerald and Pearl as the fairytale gruesome twosome, growing up in a poor home, with just their mother Ruby and a bunch of burnt out cars for company. The story follows the two growing up, moving in with their mother’s new boyfriend and his precocious spoilt daughter Arabella, and through reality TV show ‘You Shall Go To The Ball’ which turns them from fairly sweet, misguided girls, into media monstrosities.
The cast is made up of just five – the two sisters, and a three piece backing band (Not Now Bernard), who between them perform a variety of numbers which span rock, indie, power ballads and more traditional cabaret numbers, unravelling the plot a chapter at a time. The style reminded us of The Dresden Dolls or the heavier numbers from Spring Awakening. It’s hilarious from the word go, with audience interaction, clever word play, and some sophisticated slapstick bringing belly laughs from the entire audience. Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen play the sisters with a perfect mix of childhood playfulness and adult emotion. We were caught off guard by the gutsy, moving numbers, which left chills down our spines and a tear in our eye.
Other productions on this theme have overdone certain elements, but here our previous gripes were not suffered: dance led sections were beautifully choreographed, and nods to celebrity pop culture were subtle, and weren’t rightously rammed down your throat, as we’ve seen so many times. The short run time (just over an hour) also helps keep things pacy and exciting – there wasn’t a single moment we weren’t wholly enthralled.
The Ugly Sisters is everything we’d want from theatre of this ilk – and our want isn’t complicated: we want to come out excited, inspired and have that ‘I must tell everyone I know about this’ feeling, and we certainly did. It’s one of the best pieces of theatre we’ve seen in a while, and this is our ‘telling everyone we know’ – so check out the dates below and get yourself there.
For more theatre in Leeds, check out West Yorkshire Playhouse.
The Ugly Sisters
2013 Tour Dates
13 & 14 September: West Yorkshire Playhouse
5 October: Sheffield Theatres, Crucible
10 October: Hull Truck Theatre
11 & 12 October: Contact, Manchester
16 October: Cambridge Junction
22 & 23 October: Northern Stage
6 November: Theatre Royal, Wakefield
9 November: The Civic, Barnsley
10 November: New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich