The Last of the Pelican Daughters

The Wardrobe Ensemble is back at the Fringe with a powerfully emotional story of family.

Any chance to watch the Wardrobe Ensemble is a treat, and especially with such personal subject matter.

While 2017’s Education Education Education is still fresh on the minds of many after its startling debut and continued success with a recent run at the Trafalgar Studios, The Last of the Pelican Daughters is, contrastingly, a more intimate exploration of loss, sisterhood, care, and much more. Unlike EEE, it doesn’t try to unpick the politics of zeitgeist but instead turns that powerful collective Wardrobe Ensemble brain to something far more personal.

Unsurprisingly for a company of such spirit and vibrancy, The Last of the Pelican Daughters does this wondrously. The play centres around Joy, Storm, Sage and Maya Pelican, the four dynamic daughters of the late Rosemary Pelican – bohemian, supermum and recently deceased. As the sisters are brought together again to celebrate their mother’s birthday and realise their inheritance (financial and otherwise), familial chaos erupts and the sisters are pushed any which way but functional.

Visually, the play is stunning; the Pelican house is fantastically brought to life onstage with a fantastic set accompanied by vibrant sound and light effects. The ensemble inhabit the space with a brilliant, sparkling energy. Colour is everywhere: in the performances, the characters, the luscious pastel pink of the walls and the eclectic and witty spirit of the story. It’s all a bit Wes Anderson – but not in an overly Wes Anderson way.

The core is the Pelican sisters, who are introduced at the play’s outset with great excitement and reverence – just like your favourite girl band. They, and the male characters who we later meet are almost all sharply defined to the point of stereotypes, arguably sabotaging the nuanced and personal connection the ensemble is trying to carve with the audience. One character, for example, is not much evolved from the hippie backpacker archetype made famous by the BBC’s Cuckoo and elsewhere. Often, the realistic individual traits that the characters do portray are transient, and seem to fall at the mercy of the story rather than acting as the engine that pushes the plot forward. This said, the raw and cutting moments in which the characters shed their facades and ‘types’ and speak more truthfully are deep and powerful fragments of storytelling that are sure to strike a chord with so many and ground the plot.

The ending served as a microcosmic manifestation of the play’s spirit; it’s funny, and poetic, and yet tinged with a slight unoriginality – as opposed to the fearlessly fresh EEE – and a sense of isolation from the play’s arc – as if the company was relying on the audience picking up on the feeling and journey they were attempting the find for the Pelicans and just going with it. And yet, the infectious energy, invigorating devising and delightful spirit of the ensemble is more than enough to propel the production to joyful heights. Any chance to watch the Wardrobe Ensemble is a treat, and especially with such personal subject matter.

Reviews by Jet Graham

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The Blurb

Joy wants a baby, Storm wants to be seen, Sage wants to be paid, Maia doesn’t want anyone to find out her secret and Granny’s in a wheelchair on day release. Mum’s presence still seeps through the ceiling and the floors. The Pelican Daughters are home for the last time. The Wardrobe Ensemble grapple with inheritance, loss and justice in this comedy about four sisters trying to come to terms with their mother’s death. Developed with Complicité. In association with Bristol Old Vic and Pleasance.

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