At this year’s Foundry Festival, Susie Sillett mixes storytelling and documentary theatre to create Cheetah Sisters – a play that explores the complexities of Sisterhood.
Sillett’s play is a 55 minute monologue that guides us through the time in her life when she was eight years old and her parents adopted her younger sister from China. Through pre-recorded interviews with her family and sister, we are taken on this journey of Susie coming to terms with sisterhood.
Susie’s sister Rui was born in China with a life-threatening heart condition and was adopted by Susie’s parents as a baby. Susie explores how sibling relationships change over time especially as they both look back on childhood memories in different ways. It’s a raw and honest piece of theatre where Susie examines her own attitude to Rui as a child and she looks at so many things that shaped their relationship, such as interracial adoption, jealousy, grief and heartbreak.
The play is written in an interesting way to reflect the way Susie felt as a child and how she feels now. Ultimately she is conflicted about her sisterly relationship with Rui and is deeply trying to understand it. She sees herself as always supporting Rui and wanting to enhance her life, but now she starts to question whether she was doing that at all.
Susie uses dry humour to make the piece feel light and entertaining but as the interviews with her family get more candid, we begin to see her vulnerabilities show. Susie is an engaging performer and Jennifer Davis’ direction brings a real warmth as we feel as if we are sat just in a living room listening to Susie’s story over a cup of tea. It’s simple yet moving in a really clever way that captures your emotions before you even realise what you’re feeling. Susie throws herself into the storytelling and it’s a really authentic piece of autobiographical theatre that leaves you with so many questions.
What would happen if we sat and interviewed our family? Would our memories be different? Would our view on our relationships growing up be similar? It’s a remarkably interesting concept and Susie bravely and openly explores this in an intricate and quietly profound way.
Susie Sillett’s Cheetah Sisters was showcased at Birmingham Rep’s Foundry Festival. This festival celebrates work and work-in-progress pieces by emerging playwrights, directors and theatre makers in the West Midlands.