A tattered shoe-box containing old photographs becomes a chest of memories in Dermot Canavan’s spirited play about the trying relationship between siblings, Niamh and Grace. Based on the evolving relationship between his own sisters, he whips up a portrait of family life that’s brimming with nostalgia and turmoil.

Niamh and Grace are sisters, who grew up in the 1970s and for some time have “had nothing to say to each other”. Following the death of their mother, they re-connect as they release their memories from the footholds of the past. Delivered as a series of sketch-like episodes, across Anthony Lamble‘s compact living room set, the pair, (played by Imogen Stubbs and Amanda Daniels) re-enact the most defining moments of their lives. From playing the “game of buses” on the stairs, to defying parental authority with devastating effects, they immerse themselves in the journey that’s defined by the accident of birth.

Against an uplifting Northern Soul soundtrack, Canavan acutely captures the shifting loyalties of the archetypal sibling relationship, with allies becoming enemies before reverting back to confidants. There’s affection, rivalry, resentment and the simple joy at the prospect of watching Top of the Pops.

The quick pace of the production is determined by this ever changing and tempestuous relationship between the siblings. Unfortunately, the most pivotal and dramatic moments feel snatched away. When Grace unwittingly reveals her sisters whereabouts, she is punished by their violent father – the extent of which is never fully revealed. At the same time, the emotional response elicited by their mother’s last moments is swiftly drained by the somewhat abrupt diversion to the story of their parents’ meeting.

Under the direction of Ian Talbot, (the former artistic director of the Open Air Theatre), Stubbs and Daniels offer sprightly performances. Their sheer energy and commitment to the roles is undisputed, but Daniels edges ahead with her sharp delivery of Grace’s quips.

Dermot Canavan’s debut Third Finger Left Hand, is an affectionate take on the delicate relationship between two sisters, but the potential to be poignant is lost amidst the overzealous memories of the past.

Third Finger, Left Hand, Trafalgar Studios

(Originally published by What’s on Stage, Apr ’13)

– Amardeep Sohi