Cloaked as a tart comedy for women of a certain age, Alma de Groen’s Wicked Sisters is, more accurately, a play of big ideas: the fraying of the social contract; the singular economic plight of older, single women; the docile acceptance of social Darwinism as a governing principle.
The entire play is set in one room, what used to be the Blue Mountains study/laboratory of the late (and portentously surnamed) Alec Hobbes, whose research into the competitive evolution of AI bugs continues post-mortem under the watch of his widow, Meridee (played by Vanessa Downing).
But Merridee’s quiet life is about to be interrupted – in fact upended – by the arrival of old friends Judith (a corporate public relations expert), Lydia (a Leura real estate agent) and Hester, who once worked as Alec’s research assistant before a colossal falling out.
For a while, Wicked Sisters lives up to its title as the women – fuelled by wine and gin – start to tear into each other’s lifestyle choices: Lydia (Deborah Galanos) is dating a 30-year-old guy; Judith (Hannah Waterman) is a spin doctor for some fairly unsavoury causes and so lonely she visits the dentist just for the human contact.
Things take a darker turn, however, with the late and bedraggled entrance of Hester (Di Adams), who arrives with someone else’s handbag and an agenda she is determined to set in train no matter what. If she has to stoop to blackmail, so be it.
That darkening of tone is the play’s major challenge. Hester’s moral force and improbably hardcore tactics smother the comedy and challenge our belief in the characters. But director Nadia Tass’s production negotiates the gear change smoothly enough, with Adams’s Hester dominating the final stretch in the manner of J.B. Priestley’s hypocrisy-seeking missile Inspector Goole.
Downing exposes fragility and caginess in Meridee. Galanos is mercilessly funny as Lydia. Waterman’s pinpoint timing and tone brings shine to the role Judith, a woman who lied for a living and now struggles with home truths.
Tobiyah Stone-Feller’s design, with its two bold angled beams brings something of the Griffin triangle to the Reginald but leaves some imaginatively dead space at the wings. Alec’s troubling computer experiment is impressively brought to life in a large Nate Edmondson-designed video installation whose crawling “critters” often draw the eye from this worthy revival.