Walden review – Gemma Arterton’s sister act reaches for the stars | Theatre

Twin sisters with a fractious historical past are planning a reunion at the begin of Amy Berryman’s play. “We have to act happy,” says Stella to her fiance earlier than her twin has arrived, and the anxious assertion prepares us for the unfolding drama of sisterly competitors and grudge.

But the first in Sonia Friedman’s Re:Emerge sequence at the Harold Pinter theatre isn’t just a psychodrama of spiky sisterhood however an unique play of concepts that takes in every little thing from the ethics of house endeavour to local weather activism and the pull between obligation, ambition and need.

Stella (Gemma Arterton) is a failed Nasa architect, residing an anti-technology life together with her fiance, Bryan (Fehinti Balogun), in a near-future American wilderness through which planet Earth is sort of totally depleted. Cassie (Lydia Wilson), in the meantime, is a star astronaut, pushing at the boundaries of habitation on Mars and simply returned, triumphant, from a yr on the moon.

There is confidently meditative pacing to Ian Rickson’s path, and Rae Smith’s set exhibits Stella and Bryan’s life as a country idyll with sound design, by Emma Laxton, of distant chicken whistles and hoots that construct on the susurrating tensions beneath the sisters’ clipped politeness. Arterton and Wilson are glorious at capturing a true-to-life sisterliness that swerves from antagonism and clenched jaws to sudden confidences and giggles.

‘Earth advocate’ … Fehinti Balogun, as Bryan, and Gemma Arterton. Photograph: Johan Persson

Several binaries are arrange between characters, and a few may need been extra absolutely explored. We be taught that the sisters’ father was a “Nasa hero” and the concept of hot-housed sisters, positioned in a world of contest through which just one might win, is an interesting one. (Real-life siblings equivalent to the Williams sisters and the Murray brothers come to thoughts.) Ironies inside their relationship are effectively developed. Cassie feels an obligation to be the sensible astronaut when all she desires is the bizarre life, and love, that her apparently “failed” sister has acquired, whereas Stella feels Cassie resides her unfulfilled dream.

Buried resentments are aired and Arterton shines in the extra comedian moments, however her anger is barely too huffy and untextured, her nostril turned up in pique. Wilson provides a delicate and nuanced efficiency however generally appears held again by characterisation.

The dynamic between them accommodates the potential for a much bigger emotional explosion that by no means comes. At occasions, they’re pale comparisons to the three central characters in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Here is one other sister referred to as Stella and an interloping sister in Cassie who, whereas not as susceptible as Blanche, goes by means of her personal unravelling. Their clashes by no means fairly rip the pores and skin open and we want for a messier and extra devastating impact.

The play’s local weather debate is fascinating. Bryan is an “Earth advocate” – the subsequent degree up from ecowarrior – who abjures screens and regards house journey as “colonisation”. Our obligation, he says, is to save lots of the planet reasonably than wanting for some place else to go.

Cassie is initially horrified, however the place we’d have seen a battle of values performed out, a chemistry develops between them that appears an excessive amount of like a plot gadget. Bryan as an entire stays intriguing however ancillary, wavering in the massive hole between harmful luddite and enlightened local weather hero.

None of it takes away from the intelligence and soulfulness of the play. Berryman quotes Thoreau’s Walden at the begin of her script: “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads,” and each sisters, having been educated to achieve for the stars, come to grasp that happiness is correct right here, on Earth.

At the Harold Pinter theatre, London, till 12 June.