Review by Sam Waite
Sometimes in life, a situation or event will play on your every waking moment, despite being something others take only a passing interest in. Still, it was fascinating to me from the get-go that in My Sister Is Missing, Izzie Winter’s one-person musical, no one else seemed nearly as concerned that the titular sibling hadn't been seen for weeks.
Basil Plaint (no, not plant – but they do get that all the time) has taken it upon themselves to chase up the missing person report the police don't seem to be doing anything with, before deciding their next move is a private investigation of their own. Through bits and pieces of anecdotes and memories, we see that the unnamed sister was the only one they could count on – dad’s useless, mum left the family behind, gran’s memory is going. Picked on at school, their big sister has continued to be their saving grace into adulthood.
Winter’s writing is deceptively complex, with clues to the ultimate conclusion dropped from early on if you’re willing to entertain the suggestions they create. Or, with the script being driven more by emotional response than the mystery itself, you can sit back with your brain switched off and let the eventual realisation dawn on you in real-time. While able to make an endless array of jokes as Basil's awkwardness, implied increasingly bluntly to be the result of neurodivergence, Winter proves to be equally adept at handling the delicate and fragile states that seemingly everyday events can cause.
As an actor, they show no sign of fear or lack of presence on stage. From the moment they step into view, they are in command of the space – both their physical comedy and their animated expressions put you at ease with Basil, and lend a youthful exuberance to their mission. When harsher twists in the narrative call for darker emotions, Winter is able to deliver these shifts with conviction and passion. Impressively, when a lengthy number’s final moments were ruined by a technical malfunction, they were able to reset and relive these challenging emotions without missing a beat.
Of course, a performance this strong owed some debt to those who have helped to shape it, and Winter’s collaborators are equally skilled. Director Georgie Rankcom helps to navigate the highs and lows of the script, never allowing Winter to delve too deeply into despair and lose the humour, nor to oversell the comic notes and abandon the humanity that runs through the piece. Perhaps an even greater asset is movement direction from William Spencer – Ryan Webster’s set does a lot with a little, creating Basil’s studio flat with only pinboards and a rotary phone, and Spencer has made use of the entire space. Leaning into the animated nature of Basil, something that warms us to them but makes it painfully easy to see why others have struggles to maintain connections, Spencer has the star rolling around, leaping to-and-fro, and, in more emotionally poignant moments, bringing to life the anxiety and fear of a sensory overload.
A mystery musical is a niche genre and a potentially difficult sell, but the songs here do work with the unfolding narrative. Rather than having been forced in place of scenes, Winter’s self-composed and co-orchestrated (with Gregory McCrorie-Shand) go into the emotional journey rather than the physical – for the most part, they exist to give us an insight into Basil’s inner workings. All sung well, but with more focus on acting them than consistently pretty notes, by Winter, there are the makings of some wonderful patter songs here, plus a soaring, emotionally complex final number. Again, owing to a tech issue, Winter nailed this song twice back to back, never missing a literal or emotional beat and delivering on the emotional payoff of the piece.
With a 75 minute runtime, My Sister Is Missing manages to build some sense of suspense and to have a surprisingly stirring conclusion – more than anything, this is a great example of musical theatre’s potential for diverse and explorative storytelling. Written and performed by a non-binary artist, and with sexual orientation and romantic attraction only fleetingly touched on, not to mention the implicit neurodivergence, it's also a delight to see work from perspectives not usually explored this well, or this directly,
Admittedly the songs are more memorable for their impact than their specific lyrics or melodies, and the internal, thought-centric storytelling may frustrate those looking for a more traditional whodunit mystery – still, there's a lot to like here, and even things to love. A character like Basil isn't something we see nearly often enough, and above all else I was delighted just to spend an hour in their company.
My Sister Is Missing plays at the King’s Head Theatre until June 17th.
For tickets and information visit https://kingsheadtheatre.com/whats-on/my-sister-is-missing/book