Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister – Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

Some plays seem destined to give theatre marketing departments a headache. How, for example, do you sell a one woman show based on the murder of the actress’ elder sister? Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister is that very challenge but, far from being a depressing evening, it turns out to be an evening of surprise laughter and reflection on the positives in life.

Rebecca Peyton’s sister, Kate, worked as producer for the BBC in South Africa. In 2005 she was sent to one of the most dangerous places on earth, Mogadishu, in Somalia. Her brief was to cover the country’s first signs of peace. While standing outside a hotel in Mogadishu, however, she was shot in the back and killed.

Sister Rebecca’s desire to create a play centred around these events may seem initially odd but the play is more than a look at Kate’s murder, it examines the ripples that spread to affect family and friends and the willingness of communities to help in the darkest circumstances.

There are no theatrical tricks here, just a chair and a table with a glass of water. Rebecca talks frankly and openly for over an hour on the process of grief and the emotional impact of the tragedy. What is surprising, though, is the amount of humour in the evening. Kate is not held up as some perfect icon; her sister makes jokes about her, about her funeral and how she would be jealous of seeing her sister now in the spotlight. All this makes the family’s bonds and relationships colourfully real.

There are some touchingly poignant moments. The section where Rebecca describes receiving Kate’s clothes, complete with blood-ringed bullet hole is pure raw grief while the vision of Rebecca fighting her mother over her wish to wear Kate’s off the shoulder evening dress for a ‘daytime’ funeral mixes poignancy with life affirmation.

There is also an interesting look at the unexpected impact of Kate’s death. The ability to use the situation for good, either by raising awareness of the number of journalists killed in the line of their work, or less worthy the ability to get a decent plumber. Rebecca’s frank confession that she would never have met some of the people she met without her sister’s murder is both honest and thought provoking. In this celebrity obsessed age, there is a more macabre side of fame we perhaps never think about.

Staged at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, this was perhaps a more emotional staging of Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister than any other date on the current tour. Kate and Rebecca grew up locally and many in the audience knew Kate. For those who knew her or not, Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister is a wonderful tribute only to Kate but also as a celebration of human spirit. Despite the marketing problems, here is a show that far from being depressing is an uplifting and thought provoking look at the human spirit.

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