When one thinks of a “one-person show”, the likes of Trevor Noah may come to mind, but for those who have watched it, Sometimes I laugh Like My Sister would likely take preference.
This show tells the story of the days which preceded the death of writer and performer, Rebecca Peyton’s sister, Kate, as well as the months which followed. A BBC journalist, Kate Peyton was shot in the back while working on consignment in Mogadishu and within days of her death, Rebecca felt she had to write about it. “We wanted to tell the truth about my sister but also give acknowledgment to the hundreds of other journalists who had lost their lives because of their jobs – not just a White, middleclass woman.”
Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister was first born under the title, “101 Uses for a Dead Sister”, a nod to the candour with which the taboo topic of death would be covered. Rebecca, under the guidance of her director, Martin Bartelt, dove into the process of retelling her journey of mourning. This included filming hours of footage where “every second word would be a beep” and stripping the show down to a mere hour and 40 minutes.
The entire process was hard work with tireless planning and nerves but Rebecca and Martin saw it as important to always be reaching that place where you are stretching yourself. With such emotional material, this would certainly be true, but as Rebecca said, “I was thinking about Kate all the time anyway, I felt I may as well submerge myself into the material”. According to Rebecca, the show would have never reached completion if it hadn’t been for Martin because they shared a unique sense of “play”. “We allowed each other to make dark jokes about things, touch on taboos and essentially have fun with them” – such as talking about how Kate looked in her coffin.
Rebecca and Martin were also willing to ‘let each other experience what they experience’ which they also wished to accomplish within the performances as the audience played a large role in determining the tone of each show. “We let the audience be themselves,” said Rebecca, “and I had to resist getting tricks out of them”. Rebecca also hoped for the audience to experience the show instinctively through what she described as “sitting in stunned silence or laughing with discomfort or genuine hilarity”.
Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister, being such a ‘large’ story, also began to reveal themes as it developed where ‘underlying desires and fault-lines started to show themselves’. Because of this, every piece of the show became ‘tremendously profound’ and, towards its conclusion they were, “Cutting small segments here and there like a hairdresser taking off bits of hair at the end,” Rebecca said. According to Rebecca, single lines carried extreme weight and numerous messages they wished to convey to the audience such as Rebecca choosing to wear her sister’s bright green ball gown to her funeral. Thus, despite its deeply sad nature, the show often has its audience laughing alongside Rebecca.
Ultimately, Sometimes I Laugh Like Sister was made to affect and help people which Rebecca said, “Is the most important thing as a piece of work can survive beyond you”.