On Saturday night, I watched a play about death. This may sound grim, but Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister,is a brave, enchanting and politically insightful comedy that has been internationally lauded since it was first performed in 2009.
Performed by Rebecca Peyton, who co-wrote the piece with director Martin M Bartelt, the one-woman show charts Peyton’s personal response to the shooting of her elder sister, Kate Peyton, the BBC producer for Africa.
In 2005, Kate Peyton was living and working in Johannesburg when she was called to report upon the conflict in Somalia. Though reluctant to visit this war-torn country, the BBC had recently questioned her professionalism, and this assignment provided an ideal way to demonstrate her commitment to her career. Sadly, Kate’s reservations proved founded when she received a fatal gunshot in Mogadishu in February 2005.
Given that the global media is awash with dismal headlines, it is emotionally challenging to identify with the plight of a single journalist. Rebecca Peyton opts to deal with sensitive subject matter by delivering her tale with wry wit and quirky irony. This charismatic actress puts a human face to bleak circumstances and is fully alive to the absurd aspects of grief, so this production never devolves into self-pitying melodrama.
Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister is about a woman who wakes up one morning and sees the face of her dead sibling staring back at her. Rebecca Peyton stands before us as an individual but never lets the audience forget that she also represents someone who has been lost. For Peyton, the performance is a therapeutic process that allows her to preserve the personality of someone who was a profound part of her life. Just as Peyton still keeps the shirt that her sister was wearing when she was shot, so she hoards and covets elements of Kate’s character within the stronghold of theatre.
The boundaries between art and life become ever more porous as Peyton recounts her own bizarre and sometimes unstable behavior as she struggled to come to terms with existence, after losing someone that she loved with all her heart.
Peyton has screamed about her sister’s death in public libraries, started sundry fights with nightclub bouncers, fumbled drunkenly amongst the gutters of Brixton, and embraced micro-mini skirts in the dead of the British winter. These anecdotes are humorous but map Peyton’s trajectory as she refused to confront the truth of Kate’s death.
The play is passionate and personal but also critiques the sometimes unreasonable pressure that journalists receive from their employers to undertake dangerous and life-threatening work. Even as Peyton grapples with her own bereavement, she takes care to highlight the injustice of the fact that murder is considered far more newsworthy when the victim is a white, blonde, British woman with an influential career. Even the dead are not equal and many activists and reporters are killed every day with little or no protest. Peyton will not suffer silence in her own life, or in society at large, and it is poignant that she ends the production by dedicating it to all the journalists who were killed because of their profession in 2012.
Peyton stood before us at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective, which is, after all, housed in a Church and declared that God is a “Fairy in the Sky” and the dead are merely dust. This contempt for the afterlife, even within what many would consider hallowed ground, epitomises Peyton’s bold and frank theatrical persona. It captures the essence of a play that confronts the abyss of mortality with merriment and energy.
I watched this production on 9 February 2013 which was also the eighth anniversary of Kate’s death. As the stage lights dimmed, I could not shake the feeling that Rebecca Peyton had introduced us to a woman that we can never possibly meet. We laugh with Peyton as she laughs like her sister who despite having passed, is so alive in memory.
Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister ran at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective in Observatory from the 9-16 of February 2013