Wednesday 14 June 2023


WHAT: Little Brother, Big Sister
WHEN: 7-18 June 2023
WHERE: La Mama Courthouse
WRITTEN BY: Michel Paul Tuomey
PERFORMED BY: Adam Cass and Myf Powell
LIGHTING BY: Shane Grant
SOUND BY: Jess Keefe

Adam Cass and Myf Powell - photo by Darren Gill

Awareness plays are always interesting in that they are generally about conveying information which makes them dramaturgically specific. Little Brother, Big Sister, currently playing at La Mama Courthouse, technically is an awareness play about schizophrenia. This play, however, breaks the mould because rather than being information laden and schizophrenia focussed, Little Brother, Big Sister is an autobiography of a man just trying to live his life.

Little Brother, Big Sister is written by Michel Paul Tuomey (Adam Cass) and tells the story of his life so far. It tells us how the onset of schizophrenia changed his life. Possibly even more important, it explores his relationship with his sister, Karen (Myf Powell), across all of the changes. We visit them as children and are with them as they discover their creative talents - Karen is a painter and Michel has the urge to write. 

We watch as Karen moves to France and Michel tries to settle in Byron Bay. We see how the sudden onset of inexplicable episodes - later to be confirmed as schizophrenia - disintegrate Michel's independence and eventually result in bringing Karen back to support the family. We watch as each parent passes away. 

It is not all doom and gloom though. Play and humour are hallmarks of these siblings and the play ends with both Karen and Michel taking their first steps into independent futures and following their artistic dreams.

Whilst Karen is technically the visual artist in the family, Michel has quite a lot of natural talent with a bent for surrealism (perhaps not surprising). This talent is in full view with his own artwork forming a strong part of the show. Director Cathy Hunt has cleverly taken that aesthetic and the creative team have done a wonderful job of supporting this.

The space created by designer Kris Bird includes easels strewn around, and a photo wall casting a long white shadow on the floor, and cubes and stools for sitting. As the show progresses art is revealed -  both Michel's and other art by Elyss McCleary. The lighting (Shane Grant) was less successful but apparently there were projector problems on the night I saw the play. It is hard to assess how the lighting would look with the projections. I confess I was mentally begging for a touch of McCandless to give a bit of texture and visual relief.

At this point it is important to note that Hunt has directed this production with a neurodivergent audience in mind. This means it is generally well lit, and there are no sudden or loud sounds or lighting changes. Jess Keefe's sound is simple and sparse, but effective for setting scenes such as the night club.

One of the bigger issues - particularly because of the length of the play is the blocking of the actors. Tuomey's play has been written as mostly exposition. Hunt has the cast spending most of the time speaking directly to the audience, which becomes tedious. I think there could have been some fun had with how and when exposition is used in society - school, court, medical suites. There is quite a lot of humour in Little Brother, Big Sister, so there is definitely room for more play in this regard. A better use of vertical space would have been a relief. 

Cass is brilliant as Michel. His performance is complex and honest, full of confusion and joy. Powell is new to the show so I don't know how the role of Karen has transformed from the original production. I have to admit I did not like this interpretation. I felt Powell was presenting in a Play School kind of style and I did not believe for one second she was a painter. Part of the problem is Karen's costumes are just wrong. I don't know how much has been modelled on the real Karen, but this is theatre so I wanted to see paint splattered overalls and paint brushes tucked into a top knot. That sort of thing. 

All of this takes me back to the idea that Hunt could have and should have found more fun and more dynamics. This show starts in innocence and wonder and ends in hope and positivity and the production needs to take us there in all of it's elements. Especially if we are sitting there for two hours.

I feel torn by Little Brother, Big Sister. I love the story and I love the use of Surrealism. I also applaud the accommodation for neurodivergence and I believe it had no negative effect on the art of the work. It just needs more dynamics in the direction and Hunt and Powell need to dig deeper to find all of the beauty and incredibleness of Karen. It is there in the writing so trust it. I am also a bit sad I didn't get to see the show with all the projections. I can just imagine how amazing it would have looked.

3 Stars

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