Originally published on The Reviews Hub
Awarded 3 stars – Farcical
Seeing Sellotape Sisters at the Brighton Fringe Festival presents an immediate contrast. A city renowned for Gay Pride hosts a play that highlights how only a few decades beforehand, this overly flamboyant and visual celebration would have been completely avant-garde and unacceptable.
It is 1966 and homosexuality is illegal. Phyllis (Kellie Batchelor) and Ethel (Charlotte Weston) are about to film the final live episode in a six-year long TV drama, aristocratic sisters on screen and covert lovers behind camera. Along with faithful supporting actor Rupert (Jonny Freeman), an unhappily married closeted homosexual, they receive the script that apparently has the show going out with a bang in front of 22 million viewers. Part farce, part identity crisis, Sellotape Sisters puts the private lives of three self-confessed celebrities on show in an attempt at a multi-layered production.
Lee Mattinson’s previous writing experience on sitcoms and soaps is apparent in this script. The two ladies take inspiration from Absolutely Fabulous in their characters – middle class, entitled and outrageous. Even the physical similarities between Weston and Joanna Lumley are all too apparent. This translates into some successful comedy, a pleasant mixture of obvious physical acting and dry wit. Robert Wolstenholme is able to detect the laughter in between Mattinson’s lines and realise them to good effect. An over the top *gasp* from Batchelor; an arched eyebrow and piercing gaze from Weston; a backhanded compliment from Freeman delivered at lightning speed. All these serve to enhance the farcical exchanges in the production; given that this long-running TV drama has more in common with Crossroads than with Panorama, the overall effect has the audience in stitches on more than one occasion.
Given the subject material, it is clear why Mattinson tries to include passage of serious, emotional text. These are unfortunately both glossed over and lost within the remainder of the production, squeezed out in favour of a light-hearted joke or a wry comment. Ethel’s (Weston) genuine fear at being ‘outed’ on national television are put to rest with suggested solutions of fainting, fitting or falling off a bridge. Even the final scene, where Wolstenholme cleverly overlays three separate speeches from each of the main characters, loses all poignancy and grit as soon as some cheesy, empathetic background music is piped through the speakers. If one is considering only the more upbeat elements, then all three performers excel. Especially Weston, whose perfectly timed pauses and tongue in cheek delivery accompanied by deadpan expression serve to elevate the scenes into the upper echelons of British comedy.
50 years since the setting Sellotape Sisters and the landscape couldn’t be more different. Gay, lesbian and transgender characters are no longer considered taboo in society and frankly the world is a better place for it. While the play is a pleasant and relaxed way to spend an hour, it doesn’t hold a candle up to the more hard-hitting, intense LGBT offerings that Brighton Fringe has on its books.
Writer: Lee Mattinson
Director: Robert Wolstenholme
Reviewer: Daniel Perks
Runs until 22 May 2016