[Sisterhood and Solidarity]
With its name a clear nod to the #MeToo movement, it is reasonable to expect an engagement with power structures in #UsTwo. That this show roots the political within the personal is signalled right away by its intimate set, resembling a bedroom shared by two sisters. It is in this room that real-life siblings Catherine and Sarah Delahunty, now in their sixties, take us on a journey of their lives from girls to grandmothers, dealing with the challenges they faced as women along the way. Combining energetic performances with a wise, funny script, this is an insightful evening of feminist storytelling from two women who haven’t given up the fight.
The journey starts in 1950s New Zealand, with the sisters portraying their younger selves at school (where the grooming to be housewives has already begun) and at home (where they pretend to be Robin Hood, despite knowing girls can’t be heroes). The decades pass, reflected smoothly through music and small changes in costume. We witness Catherine and Sarah’s progression — into teenagers navigating risky relationships, young women adjusting to the expectations of wives, and mothers raising children while building their own careers.
The show starkly reveals how their aspirations change over time, shaped by social pressure. As children, Sarah tries to train Catherine to be an Olympic champion; as teenagers, the two train to look like Twiggy. On a more affirming note, some ambitions stay the same: Catherine pokes fun at her adolescent political fervour, but recognises how this led her to become an MP. Sarah describes the demeaning parts she was given in her early theatrical career, but is proud of the plays she later wrote that put women’s voices front and centre.
Though it is apparent that we are watching their story, the show also includes broader gender commentary. This is mainly through the performers reading out famous quotes from and about women, which works well as a device tying their individual experiences to wider views of gender. It also proves that everyone has something to say about how women ought to live – and why it is important to have shows like this where women (literally) write the script.
#UsTwo is often humorous, and I was initially unsure how the show would handle pivots from comic to serious. However, it does this effectively, sometimes through the integration of song. There are also many resonant non-musical moments, such as Sarah’s account of her first panic attack. Ultimately, the show seems to critique its own light tone: After all, aren’t women always told to take a joke? Don’t they feel like the only way to put up with hurt is to pretend it doesn’t really affect them? We see a dramatisation of this attitude when the sisters hold a tournament to judge who has had the worst experiences with men (complete with a referee and air horn). By the end, the sisters lay bare their anger and their refusal to sit quietly and be called “doll” and “poppet”. They embrace a quote they read from Helen Mirren: “If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to use the words ‘fuck off’ much more frequently.”
It feels powerful and fresh to watch the resistance of older women, particularly when the younger generation can feel as though they are alone in fighting for freedom. But it was us too, this show reminds us, and it still is. #UsTwo ends by making it clear that there is much further to go in tearing down oppressive structures — not only for women, but all marginalised groups in society. “Are you awake?” Sarah once asked her sister as a child after lights out. Now she addresses it to us, with a more urgent meaning: it is our duty to stay alert, and demand a better world for those who come after us.
#UsTwo plays Basement Theatre as part of Auckland Fringe 25 to 27 February, 2020.