Monday, 9 January 2017

Review Three Sisters

Three Sisters 
by Anton Chekhov
In A New Version by Tracy Letts

Home And Away

The world in this spare adaptation of Chekhov's penultimate play, kept by playwright Tracy Letts in an early twentieth century milieu, turns in jerks and starts like the beat in The Clash's Should I Stay Or Should I Go which marks the final note of this production.

The three sisters, brought up in Moscow, come from an army family, their late father a general sent to a provincial garrison town.

Schoolteacher Olga (Celine Abrahams) and Masha (Ivy Corbin), who married young but has grown to despise her husband (Steven Rodgers), chafe against their rural life. The youngest, romantic Irina (Molly Crookes) works at the telegraph office. Her nostalgia for Moscow is the most intense, like her sisters feeling herself a cut above her local neighbours, longing to and believing she will return to the bright lights of the populous city.

The military stationed in their town, with a round of social events, provides the sisters' chief distraction, albeit, as happeed once to their own family, they can be moved on at any time. However, the sisters also pin their hopes on the sole son of the family, their violin-playing brother Andrey (Benjamin Chandler), whom they believe has the wherewithal to become a professor.

Masha has become romantically attached to commanding officer Vershinin (Ashley Russell), trapped in an unhappy marriage. Officers, gentle piano-playing Tusenbach (Ian Malmed) and aggressive Solyony (Hugo Nicholson), pursue flighty Irina.

They barely register at first how their brother has rooted himself in the town, becoming entangled with local girl, the ill-educated but ambitious Natasha (Francesca Burgoyne).

 With the title shortened to the more casual, less portentous Three Sisters (originally The Three Sisters), this play aims to cross the time divide by shorning the piece of most of its specifically Russian social and literary references.

This has both positives and negatives. The production at the Union Theatre, directed by Phil Willmott, has a cinematic quality - voices drift from rooms off the in-the-round stage, actions halt in meaningful glances and pauses.

Small but effective moments, verbal and non verbal, are scattered across the play like sharp visceral pin pricks. Irina's superior grimace, for example, when exiting the room containing the socially awkward Natasha, little knowing the relationsip with Andrey.

Nevertheless, there are drawbacks. There is an unevenness in tone in the denuded script with its many pauses. Its spareness feels at the expense of the relationship between the three sisters, along with the plot and a flattening of the drama's natural ebb and flow.

Natasha's role with the most strident lines as she gains in power becomes magnified, the self-reproach of the elderly doctor Chebutykin (despite a relaxed and engaging performance by JP Turner) is diminished, the turning point fire loses dramatic urgency the relationship between characters viewed from the outside rather than felt from the inside.

At the same time, there's no doubting the visual and verbal appeal of the strong cast, along with lucid design - costumes by Penn O'Gara and a soundscape by Sebastian Atterbury. The production slips purposefully from the brightly lit family drawing room to a simple bench in twilight gloom with hints of a railway station caught in time.

Letts is probably best known otherwise for his tale of family torment, Pulitzer Prize-winning play and then film, August: Osage County. Moments of zest and delicacy have impact in Three Sisters, but finally this adaptation of the play seems just too subtle and filmic and it's an amber light for an interesting if somewhat impaired version of the Chekhov classic.

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