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Published June 6, 2018

The relationship that exists between siblings stands apart from all others, and can be capable of surviving transgressions that would destroy the hardiest of friendships. This is exemplified in Olivia Satchell’s work my sister feather, wherein we are introduced to sisters Egg and Tilly. Within the confines of a cramped prison visiting room, a heavy tension is created as they confront each other for the first time in years.

Egg, played by Emily Tomlins, presents as a stoic, self-policing, and seemingly wholly institutionalised subject. This is in sharp contrast to her sister Tilly, played by Belinda McClory, who bursts into the room buzzing with nervous energy, anxiously babbling to fill space and avoid confronting the obvious elephant in the room. As both sisters regress into their childhood roles, they use the physicality of their bodies in sharp, jarring movements to express the fractured relationship that exists between them as adults.

Belinda McClory and Emily Tomlins. Photographer: Sarah Walker
Belinda McClory and Emily Tomlins. Photographer: Sarah Walker

Interspersed throughout their terse conversation are nostalgic scenes of childhood play, evoking a deep sadness for what once was, and providing a stark contrast to the deep rift that time and circumstances have drawn between them. Well-placed instances of humour serve to dispel tension and lighten a heavy subject matter, before the audience is once more made to bear witness to their reimagining of childhood anxieties. The omnipresence of the panopticon-esque loudspeaker as a third player only adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

In the brief moments of sisterly intimacy we can see the characters of each more clearly: Egg, the prototypical self-loathing abandoned child, desperately seeking an answer that absolves her absent mother even at the expense of her sister; Tilly, the older sister who failed to protect her vulnerable younger sibling, now a social worker focusing on at-risk youth. Both seeking absolution in one form or another.

Emily Tomlins. Photographer: Sarah Walker
Emily Tomlins. Photographer: Sarah Walker

In addition to illustrating the complex nature of sibling relationships, my sister feather also depicts a raw portrayal of toxic, unfettered femininity, unconstrained by such limiting notions as propriety. Tomlins and McClory both express a vast emotional vocabulary with their words and bodies, from furious outrage, to resigned defeat, to giggling glee.


my sister feather is on at La Mama Courthouse May 30 – June 10. Tickets are $30 or $20 concession. For more information and to buy tickets, see the La Mama website.

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