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by Cary O'Dell

“Stay” by Shakespeare’s Sister (1991)

The female duo known as Shakespeare’s Sister consisted of American Marcella Detroit and the British Siobhan Fahey (the latter, once Mrs. Dave Stewart and also once of Bananarama).  This particular incarnation of Sister released two albums and achieved at least one massive hit-- “Stay.”  “Stay,” from the group’s album “Hormonally Yours,” would spend eight weeks at the number one spot in the UK and went to number four in the US.

For the song “Stay,” both Detroit (with her impressive multi-octave range) and Fahey take on the lead vocals.  The song is something of duet, with Fahey, who comes on second, adopting (presumably) the persona of Death and Detroit taking on the part of Life.  Vocally and lyrically, the two voices “fight” over the life of a third person addressed in the song and, in the video, represented in the form of an unconscious man.

The video, directed by Sophie Muller, largely illustrates the song:  after beginning with a shot of a star-filled night sky, the moon floating between heaven and earth, the camera pulls back.  We are then in what is clearly a hospital room, a man is comatose and on a respirator, on the edge of death.  Detroit is seen tending to him and sings for him to remain (“stay”) within the world/realm of life.  As Wikipedia reports in its synopsis of the video: 

At the bridge of the song, a portal opens and the angel of death, played by Fahey, appears at the top of a staircase…  Detroit tries her best to wake the man up, while Death slowly makes her way down the stairs to claim his soul.  The two women begin fighting over the man, making it literally and figuratively a fight between life (Detroit) and death (Fahey).

Though, to some, the video treatment of the song may be a little too literal, even within the framework of this relatively simple story, director Mueller and the team of Shakespeare’s Sister elevate the work, daring to approach touches that are not only Biblical in origin but Fellini- and Bergman-esque in reference.

In some versions of the video, the video begins with some on-screen text, a not-quite correct quote from “Macbeth”:  “When shall we two meet again.”  The brevity of many/most music videos usually make the incorporation of any sort of literary reference seem pretentious, but considering the duo’s name, in this case, it’s an indulgence that, here, seems forgivable.

In the clip, in the beginning, Detroit holds court.  For the first half, or even two-thirds of the video, it is just her, alone with the man.  In fact, it is often just her, often in extreme close-up.

Finally, we get a wide-shot where, against the backdrop of this room’s Frankenstein-like hospital equipment, we fully see the scene and Detroit’s pale hands tending to and bathing her patient, a young, shirtless unknown played by non-actor Dave Evans (he was recruited for the video by the group from their circle of friends).  Evans’s face is highlighted in one fleeting close-up that then pulls out to show his torso, his shoulder tattoo the only thing that betrays his Romantic Age visage.

Next, Detroit is seen retrieving the washing/healing waters that she will use to gently bath Evans.  An overhead shot of a brass bowl filled with water takes the place of a baptismal pool and the religious connotations of the song are brought bluntly into focus.  Continuing from the bowl, the overhead shot shows us the first full-length view of the sprawled Evans in his pieta pose.

Detroit’s vocal sprints up the musical scale, often entering whistle-register, bespeak of the music of the heavens. 

But then a blinding light occurs and fills the screen.  But this is not a sign from the heavens but, instead, the introduction of Fahey in her persona of the Angel of Death (or something of its ilk) and her more guttural and primal vocals:  You better hope and pray, she commands and challenges. Fahey, in this character, inhabits every cheap, common stereotype of hell and sin with her heavy make-eyed, blackened eye, lascivious licking of her lips, and, finally, the vulgar thrust of her pelvis. 

The aforementioned fight—vocal and physical—erupts.  The fight is not symbolic—actual physical contact between Detroit and Fahey, Life and Death, takes place.  They battle for and over the body of Evans is played out and his is now, literally, caught in the middle.  As he is seen clothed only in a loose-fitting, white cloth from the waist down, he becomes the would-be Christ of this piece.  It is a symbolism that is underscored by the video’s most powerful image.  It arrives next and is an overhead shot (cf. the earlier baptismal bowl) where Detroit and Fahey have each seized one of his arms.  Evan’s body, seen from above, then forms a cruciform, or, more directly, the crucifixion, recreating the image of Christ on the cross.

Thankfully, Life (Detroit) becomes the victor in this battle, with Death (Fahey) not only being vanquished (she rolls her eyes in her exit) but Evans coming to life and embracing Detroit—it is a tight clinging together reminiscent of the life-and-death hold between Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush in their video “Don’t Give Up.”

As the music fades out, Death makes her exit, waving behind her, defeated (again?) by love.


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