Set in Le Mans in the 1930s, My Sister in this House examines the circumstances surrounding the abominable murder of an affluent woman and her daughter.
A macabre trail of eyeballs, clumps of hair and pieces of skin leads to the conjugal bed of two sisters who had, until very recently, served as their live-in maids. We are introduced to these, Christine and Lea, as they begin their employment.
Wretchedly poor, they send every sous home to their mother, by all accounts a tyrant. Eventually they sever ties and, assuming the role of mother and daughter, scrimp to furnish themselves with a meagre living.
The victims, Madame Danzard and Isabelle, live lavishly alongside their serfs yet relatively speaking, they are as frugal as they; a good deal of energy is expended on worsening Christine and Leas lot demanding much more for much less. Wealth is stockpiled and useless.
The stage is effectively spit in two, with separate but indistinct performances running alongside, picked out by lighting alone. The factions interdependency is complex and provides four demanding and subtle roles. If occasionally a touch melodramatic, the play is well acted throughout and tightly composed.
With parallelism providing such an overt organising principle, there is perhaps more to Kesselmans play than the obvious Marxist interpretation. Of course, likening and contrasting the characters restores them as human beings, and in doing so exposes their social differentiation as an artifice.
Moreover, linking the suffering of the sisters to their employers decadent lifestyle and in particular its continuation day-by-day, generation-by-generation is enough to leave any vaguely left-leaning spectator overcome with guilt. I soon found myself scrutinising the labels in my shirts and shoes for evidence of economic injustice.
More interesting, however, is the equation of violence. Physically, the sisters barbarity is without precedence it is unexpected and shocking. Indeed, the play desperately wants to disown it, and almost succeeds in squeezing it out altogether; it remains only as a footnote, an epilogue, a dogged refusal to allow the status-quo to conveniently rearrange and itself. We do not witness the horror. It is recounted dispassionately, itemised.
But the victims violence, if less visible, is as if not more palpable; there is no clawing or gorging, just a dull-ache brought on by years of pedantry and bullying. Extreme as Lea and Christines retribution may appear, it is all too easy to empathise with their butchery. The guillotine beckons, but the revolutionary fervour is conspicuous by its absence.
Of its ninety minutes, eighty-eight build to My Sisters ghastly climax: failure to manage the tension would be lethal. The incest, the lesbianism, the psychological damage could all be so easily overstated but these are kept firmly in place, enriching the narrative rather than seeking to explain anything or play for shock value. Linthwaite tells the story with commendable economy. A character-study could never aspire to this level of sophistication.