A new Checkov experience

3 sisters Deborah Abesser
Three Sisters - Image by Deborah Abesser

Three Sisters is performed by a large cast in a tiny space. There is a strange mixture of original and ‘adapted’ material including some odd choices of dress, set and dialogue and unfortunately the introduced elements did not add to the success of the overall production.

Chekhov’s Three Sisters, like most of his work is about universal themes of humanity, angst and purpose. Director Liz Arday ‘adapts’ Chekov introducing swearing, dildos, polaroids and Halloween whilst keeping the majority of the original play (names, settings and actions) in tact. An example of this was the Halloween gathering when masks were introduced and Masha (Alison McGirr) mentions the unending Summer. Halloween, an American tradition is Oct 30th. That is mid Autumn in the northern hemisphere. Many of these changes seemed like unnecessary add ons which did not sit well with the original play. Another example is the line Irina speaks about her job in the post office: “The job is so retarded” which gained a laugh perhaps at the expense of the original meaning of the text. Some of the humour of Chekhov’s lines like “Fine. Since the tea is not forthcoming, let’s have a philosophical conversation” lacked delivery.

The sisters and brother Andrei long for a return to Moscow and a purpose in life. Irina says: “There will come a time when everybody will know why, for what purpose, there is all this suffering, and there will be no more mysteries. But now we must live … we must work, just work!”  Work seems to be the panacea to all their ills, but does not suffice. They try to cope with their angst ridden everyday existence developing relationships with the local militia and townspeople. The sisters do not get to Moscow and tragedy does ensue.  Baron (Patrick George) wryly says perhaps “Happiness is for future generations”.

Although the finesse of performances varied, a much stronger second act saw many of the actors to hit their strides and developing some lovely tension. There were pockets of excellence, but these were uneven with depth missing from the roles at times.

Three Sisters Image be Deborah Abesser
Factotum's Three Sisters. Image be Deborah Abesser

One standout performer throughout with consistent characterisation and a mesmerising stage presence was Shaelee Rooke as Irina, the youngest of the sisters. Nicole Wineberg was also strong as Natasha, who marries Andre (Aaron J March). Wineberg draws a lovely  trajectory from supposedly vulnerable, pitiful young girl to overbearing matronly tyrant. Paul Armstrong allowed some tantallzing glimpses into the depths of Fyodor’s (Masha’s husband) love and suffering. There were also some nice, naturalistic moments from John Shearer as the old doctor Chebutykin, world weary and wise.

When the text and real emotion won through the production improved imensley and the trappings became incidentals. It was a brave undertaking and I hope Chekov, unlike Masha is not saying “My soul is in pain”.

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