Wednesday 12 September 2012

Theatre review: Three Sisters

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Three Sisters invites the official critics in tomorrow night.

Still in previews it may be, but Benedict Andrews' take (he both adapts and directs) on Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters already seems to be causing some pretty heated debate, judging by the reaction I've seen on Twitter over the last couple of nights. Having now seen the production myself, I must admit I'm a bit baffled as to why it's been quite such a love/hate affair. Still set in Russia but relocated to the present day, the three sisters of the title live comfortable but unfulfilling lives in a small, remote town, notable only for the army regiment stationed there. Longing for a return to Moscow, where they grew up, theirs is a story of disappointment at every turn, as their plans are thwarted, love turns out not to be anything like the books and movies say it is, and it looks like their lives are stuck in a dead end before they're even out of their twenties.

The cast features the reunion of three former members of The EnsembleTM, Mariah Gale as oldest sister Olga, Sam Troughton as the Baron, and Gruffudd Glyn as Fedotik. And designer Johannes Schütz makes them feel at home, with a deep thrust reminiscent of the RSC's stages - made up of small, functional wooden tables, the stage is gradually dismantled over the course of the play. It's perhaps a bit heavy-handed as symbolism goes, but I found it a visually interesting staging. With a large mound of earth at the back, there's something epic to the production at times - modernising the characters' tendency to break into song leads to a grimly intense rendition of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (judging by the murmurs of recognition, I was surprised how long it took much of the audience to twig what the song was; but I guess they're young.) The sometimes apocalyptic feel ties in with the characters' frequent hope of a world two or three hundred years after their deaths where everyone's finally happy: A century after the words were written it's still as far away. Only the climactic duel felt a bit anachronistic to me in this re-setting.

Gale's Olga is joined by Vanessa Kirby as Masha, the middle sister in perpetual mourning who married in haste only to fall for William Houston's Vershinin; Gala Gordon as the youngest, Irina, who hopes to find a purpose through work; and a scene-stealing Danny Kirrane as their brother Andrey, the poster-boy for missed potential. Adrian Schiller is excellent as Kulygin, the likeable schoolteacher whose utter dullness Irina only noticed after she married him. Emily Barclay's Australian Natasha, covered in tacky tattoos, goes effectively from mocked outsider to monstrous lady of the house following her marriage to Andrey. And Michael Feast manages to ever-so-slightly curb his tendency towards ham as the alcoholic doctor Chebutykin. For all the non-traditional trappings of a modernised text (complete with swearing) and Brechtian staging, the performances and direction felt true to Chekhov; Three Sisters is a terribly bleak play but although a bit overlong, this is an interesting take on it.

Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov in a version by Benedict Andrews is booking until the 13th of October at the Young Vic.

Running time: 3 hours including interval.

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