The Forsythe Sisters

Have you ever seen a shadowy face in the dark, heard strange cries in the night, or had the feeling you’re being watched? The Forsythe Sisters are experts in the paranormal -through dazzling displays of psychic connectivity, musical communions and transgressions to the dark side…this February at The Norwegian Church in Cardiff, the living can walk with the dead. But are The Sisters all they seem? Who is the white angel that haunts them? Can dogs really see Orbs?

A ghostly musical chiller from the team that brought you the Multi-Award Winning show The Bloody Ballad and featuring special guest Johnny Cage. This Valentines how far would you be prepared to go for the one you love?

Be prepared for an evening of strange stories, ghostly visitations, musical communions and transgressions to the dark side.

Credits

Written by Lucy Rivers and Hannah McPake
Directed by Adele Thomas
Dramaturg: Dafydd James

Original live music by Lucy Rivers, and featuring special guest Dan Lambert aka Johnny Cage from Hopeless Sinners and Voodoo Groove.

Supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Theatr Iolo, Bristol Old Vic Ferment and Chapter Arts Centre.

Gallery

Photography by Kirsten McTernan.

Reviews

“Mind-reading tricks, bumps in the night and a gorgeous unworldly score pile on the atmosphere!”
Lyn Gardner – The Guardian

“…highly enjoyable characters and delicious music.”
Heather Arnold – Buzz Magazine

“Skilfully assembled and seamlessly executed.”
Othniel Smith – British Theatre Guide

“…another fantastic fusion of live music and theatre from the innovative and original Gagglebabble!”
Elin Williams – Arts Scene in Wales

“It’s a magic show, a music gig, a sad story of family tragedy, a slapstick comedy par excellence!”
Roy Campbell Moore

The lights flicker, there is the sound of knocking and a pale face appears at the window of the 19th-century church turned arts centre. If you are looking for something a bit jokey and a bit spooky then the latest from Gagglebabble, the rising Welsh company who gave us the southern gothic musical spoof The Bloody Ballad, should fit the bill nicely.

This most distinctive of companies, who combine live music and theatre but are far too cool to make anything approaching a traditional musical, have certainly got plenty of spirit. This rough-and-ready show, which I saw at a preview performance, piles on the schlock to good effect as it draws on stories of Cardiff Bay’s ghostly goings-on to give theatregoers a fright in the night.

Our host for the evening is Diane (Catrin Aaron), the frumpy, earnest caretaker of the building who has invited the famous Forsythe sisters – Morven (Hannah McPake) and Maggie (Lucy Rivers) – to give a demonstration of their mediumship. This gift emerged after a childhood fire in their home across the bay, which left their parents burned to a crisp. But why does Diane invite the sisters to perform, and are Morven and Maggie quite what they seem?

Mind-reading tricks, bumps in the night and a gorgeous unworldly score pile on the atmosphere, and the show uses the space imaginatively to build to a terrific growling climax. At just an hour it feels rushed, and it would benefit from greater emotional layering and a more probing examination of belief and scepticism, scientific reason and the lure of the irrational. This still feels like a work in progress, but has real and intriguing potential, which in its current form makes you feel the spirit, even if it doesn’t quite move you.

★★★ The Guardian – Lyn Gardner

Though it’s an iconic part of Cardiff Bay the Norwegian Church can feel oddly isolated from lively hubbub of Mermaid Quay, especially on a rugby night when the bars are full of drink filled sports fans.

On this night in particular it was the first night of the Six Nations and Wales were taking on England, so there were plenty of people about. But as I edged nearer to the church I very quickly moved from the lights and noise of the  centre of the quay to its dark and quiet corner: the perfect place for a séance.

Okay it wasn’t a real séance (I’m a strong believer that ghosts aren’t real and that there isn’t really such thing as a ‘real’ séance, but saying that I will avoid a ouija board like the plague – I’ve seen Paranormal Activity and I’m not taking any chances) it was a theatrical one created by the combined minds of Gagglebabble and Theatr Iolo.

Shown into the church (which is much more welcoming inside then the exterior, on a cold dark night, would lead you to believe) I joined the rest of the audience for a cup of tea in the cafe. Soon enough we were shown into the churches main hall by the friendly and quirky Diana (played by Catrin Aaron) – our host for the evening and apparently an employee of the church.

Once we had taken our seats and had Diana welcomed us warmly and introduced the women we had come to see: the Forsythe sisters.

Years ago these two sisters, Morven (Hannah McPake) and Maggie (Lucy Rivers), were orphaned after a tragic fire took the lives of their parents and left Maggie blind. The fire took Maggie’s sense of sight, but gave her another. Yes, just like the little boy from The Sixth Sense, she can ‘see dead people’.

With beautiful musical accompaniment (Morven plays the cello as Maggie picks up both the violin and guitar) the séance begins. As we hear the tragic tales of local spirits, and the audience appear to share their own paranormal experiences, things start to go awry. Mysterious strangers turn up, Maggie seems to be losing her grip on reality and things start to go bump in the night.

The music in this ‘ghostly musical chiller’ (described as such in it’s programme) was fantastic. There was some haunting songs from the sisters and brilliant blues tunes that I ended up humming to myself on the way home, if Gagglebabble decide to sell the soundtrack to the show I’ll be first in line to buy it!

This was coupled with some great performances; Aaron’s character Diana was spot on as the funny, scatty ‘community organiser’ – she’s the type of person that we all know in one form or another and her interactions with the audience were hilarious.

Special musical guest Dan Lambert (known best as the frontman of Johnny Cage And The Voodoogroove) was a fantastic choice as his gravelly blues infused voice – one part scary and two parts seductive – was perfect for his character.

The show wasn’t flawless, however, as the immersive aspect of the show very occasionally clashed with the more flamboyant musical side – particularly in the scenes when we, as an audience, are meant to be eves dropping on conversations, with the characters seemingly unaware. These scenes could benefit from have a more natural feel, breaking away from the performative feel seen in the ‘séance show’.

This, however, is a very minor issue in an overall very enjoyable show which not only has some highly enjoyable characters and delicious music but a brilliant revelation at the end.

★★★ Buzz Magazine – Heather Arnold

In The Forsythe Sisters, Gagglebabble invite you to attend an evening of mediumship at your local village hall. What follows is a random concoction of village characters, local myths, psychic demonstrations, live music and even a mini love story all bewilderingly but enjoyably rolled into the space of an hour.

The action is a little slow to begin with and for no real reason has the audience participating in a sing song, but the pace builds nicely through the piece to a surprising climax. The story by Hannah McPake and Lucy Rivers, although meandering at times, holds together and keeps the audience gripped throughout as well as throwing in a smattering of spooky happenings and jump out of your skin moments just to be sure.

The space is used creatively and to great effect under the direction of Adele Thomas, with the action taking place all over the Norwegian Church Arts Centre, inside and out, just as it would if you were attending an event at a village hall. It is almost site specific in that the Norwegian Church itself makes up the majority of the set. There are unfortunately occasional lapses in attention to detail – a string showing here, a battery showing there – which break the fantasy and let down the realisation of some well imagined effects.

The strength of this show is the original live music, written by Rivers, and the hugely talented cast. Rivers and McPake play the Forsythe Sisters themselves and demonstrate that they are incredibly talented actors, singers and musicians on top of writing the piece.

It may not be perfect and it may leave some wondering what has just happened to them but if you are partial to things that go bump in the night then The Forsythe Sisters is worth a visit.

★★★ The Public Reviews – Jacqui Onions

Spooky goings on with comedy and music too.

Most of us are intrigued by ghost stories, whether or not we’re believers in the spirit world or easily spooked.

So Gagglebabble’s follow-up to its hugely successful debut, The Bloody Ballad, sparks interest as soon as you’re promised “an experience from beyond the grave”. And what better setting than the historic Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay for the ghostly musical chiller to unfold?

Just like The Bloody Ballad, The Forsythe Sisters is part-gig, part-theatre – why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Writers Lucy Rivers and Hannah McPake play sisters Maggie and Morven whose parents were killed in a house fire in Penarth when they were children. Maggie is now blind but can connect with spirits.

Tonight we are at one of their sessions when they will be contacting the other world. Against the backdrop of one of the church’s beautiful arch windows, the sisters start telling their sad tale through song. 

“We can comfort you,” they tell us, with manic looks on their faces. Somehow we don’t quite believe them.

Without giving too much away, we begin to think there’s more to the situation than first seems.

Rivers and McPake are brilliant musicians and singers, reminiscent of singing sisters of the moment, First Aid Kit.

But it’s Catrin Aaron who steals the show. She perfectly portrays our bumbling host Diane, who oversees everything from baby yoga to Stitch ‘n’ Bitch classes at the hall.

Despite her best attempts to keep things in order, everything goes wrong. And her bored brother Charlie (Malcolm Hamilton) who’s running the sound and lighting, doesn’t help as he’d rather be anywhere but here.

At just an hour long, this is a short, punchy piece and the original ghost story is satisfying enough, but despite some strange happenings, dim lighting and spooky background music, it’s more comedy than chiller.

However, it will put a smile on your face – particularly the final scene-stealing performance from musician Dan Lambert.

★★★★ Western Mail – Karen Price

Gagglebabble, the company built around the multiple talents of Lucy Rivers and Hannah McPake, achieved notable success on the Edinburgh Fringe and nationwide in 2013 with their dark-toned country-and-western musical The Bloody Ballad. Their second offering, The Forsythe Sisters, again fuses live music with sinister drama.

The Norwegian Church, in which the piece is premièring, is one of Cardiff Bay’s most distinctive landmarks. It’s not the most sinister of buildings, though, having retained the appearance of a cottage hospital, its function when on its original site. It is to the credit of the company that Gagglebabble manages to turn this unassuming arts centre into a place of dread and mystery.

The evening commences with Gill (Catrin Aaron), the venue’s ditzy manager, welcoming the audience to an evening of supernatural, musical entertainment, this year’s non-traditional Valentine’s day offering. She is assisted/hampered by her sceptical brother, techie/DJ Charlie (Malcolm Hamilton).

The special guests are the Forsythe Sisters—Morven (McPake) and the visually impaired Maggie (Rivers). Clad in identical blue dresses and yellow tights, their act combines the musical (Morven on cello, Maggie on guitar and violin, both singing) with the psychic—mind-reading, summoning up spirits, etc (it took me a while to get the “Forsythe/foresight” pun).

They tell the sorry tale of their lost family home, on the cliff across the bay from the church, and the catastrophic fire in which their parents perished and Maggie lost her sight, but gained the gift of another kind of vision. It soon becomes clear, however, that their act is all fakery. Or is it…?

Pretty soon, Gill and Charlie, who are mourning the recent passing of their mother, become intimately involved in the goings on; an abandoned lover (Simon Ludders) reappears to sow discord between the sisters; and there’s even an appearance from an all-in-black, rock’n’roll Grim Reaper character (Dan Lambert).

The script is loose enough to incorporate some light audience interaction whilst retaining control of a narrative whose theme is the power of love, both familial and the Valentine’s Day kind.

Rivers’s songs, largely in the folk vein, with occasional outbreaks of heartfelt balladry, are highly effective. Most of the doomy music is played live, although there is added input from Samuel Jones.

Director Adele Thomas makes clever use of several parts of the venue, with one vital exchange taking place in the upstairs gallery, and the sudden appearance of a face at the window causing several audience members to gasp. Jane Lalljee’s lighting effects and Dan Lawrence’s sound design contribute more than generously to the air of spookiness.

Skilfully assembled and seamlessly executed, The Forsythe Sisters is great fun and well worth an hour of your time. Unless, of course, you have to walk home alone in the dark…

British Theatre Guide – Othniel Smith

After their hugely successful, electrifying live music show ‘The Bloody Ballad’, GaggleBabble are back with their production of ‘The Forsythe Sisters’.

Inspired by Reverend Edmund Jones’ 18th century pamphlet on apparitions and spirits amongst many other influences, the show takes place in the eerily atmospheric Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay, a place which houses secrets of its own. Very much a character in its own right, the church is perfectly intimate for an evening with Maggie and Morven Forsythe, a pair of sisters who claim to be able to contact the dead.

Maggie and Morven Forsythe were fortunate enough to survive a house fire in 1987 in Penarth which took the lives of both parents. Ever since then, Maggie has been blind, but has had a psychic ability to see only one group of people: spirits. With sister Morven at her side, Maggie displays her psychic abilities, inviting spirits to join them with the help of her acoustic guitar. Hosted by the eccentric Diane who babbles consistently throughout the show, Catrin Aaron is incredibly believable and fools the audience into thinking pre show that she is merely there as warden of the church. The audience soon begin to realise that she plays a far more significant role.

The show begins with Hannah McPake as Morven demonstrating her sister’s psychic abilities by using members of the audience and then sending psychic messages telepathically to her blind sister onstage. Maggie, wearing a pair of thick, dark glasses, recounts the story of how she was saved by her sister during the house fire, narrowly escaping the embrace of the White Angel of Death. The show, which is perfectly punctuated by McPake’s and Rivers’ harrowing harmonies, takes a turn for the worse when a man appears at the window and startles the audience and, more interestingly, Morven.

The show dips in and out of Brechtian techniques, mobile phones ringing, Diane’s incompetent brother Charlie blasting out jarring sounds on the speakers and Morven declaring that the show is over after half an hour. The audience is kept very much on their toes throughout, jumping at sudden, loud noises and swivelling to see Morven and the mysterious visitor in the gallery upstairs and outside the church.  Diane, panicking at the constant unexpected disruptions, bustles about the room asking members of the audience to help with the cups.

Ultimately, the show draws to a climactic close with an explosion of paranormal activity and the entrance of the White Angel of Death accompanied by deafening electric guitar. The show is a bizarre yet fantastic mix of the surreal and the urbane which constantly keeps the audience on edge. As a consequence, the evening is genuinely tense and enthralling. ‘The Forsythe Sisters’ is another fantastic fusion of live music and theatre from the innovative and original Gaggle Babble.

Arts Scene in Wales – Elin Williams

A delightful and ghoulish experience from beyond the grave…

It’s Friday night, Friday the 13th. Theatre company, GabbleBabble has invited its audience to The Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay on a cold and drizzly February evening for an ‘experience from beyond the grave’, promising a ghoulish antidote to the Valentine’s day weekend. An enticing prospect indeed. Settling into the intimate space, the audience is humorously introduced to the nature of the show by Catrin Aaron’s witty and sharp Di, who warms the audience up and begins a delightful process of subterfuge and subversion where the audience becomes unsure of who’s who and what’s going on.

Eventually, the two Forsythe Sisters, Hannah McPake and Lucy Rivers arrive and begin a bizarre series of stories, interludes, songs and nocturnal happenings that push the audience in every direction possible. It’s a magic show, a music gig, a sad story of family tragedy, a slapstick comedy par excellence, sometimes all happening simultaneously. With ease, the cast make the audience gasp in disbelieve, shock or hysterical laughter as the building becomes alive with clever and eye-popping surprises. McPake and Rivers show their superb talents as actors, musicians and comedians, spellbinding with their material and completely convincing in their roles that take the audience on a wild ride into an immersive experience that is rare in the world of theatre. The other cast members give superb support to these two leading performers and the innovative lighting, sound and overall design is perfectly pitched.

The narrative and script for the show is sharp and tight, and the evening is directed by Adele Thomas with a sense of timing and passion that is celebratory and delightful, never rushing the cast and allowing everyone to wring out the ideas for maximum impact. A ghoulish evening was promised and then delivered and the conclusion of the sisters’ family story image is surely worthy of a horror film.

There’s not a single wasted moment in this outrageously funny show and if there are any talent scouts left in the BBC, they should be rushing to pick up GabbleBabble as a gifted gang of artists who could deliver clever and funny work to a big national audience.

www.theatre-wales.co.uk – Roy Campbell-Moore