Last Updated on 20th April 2019
Danny Coleman-Cooke reviews Anton Chekhov’s play Three Sisters now playing at the Almeida Theatre, London.
17 April 2019
A few months ago the Almeida Theatre produced one of this year’s most highly decorated plays, Summer and Smoke, which included a Best Actress Olivier win for rising star Patsy Ferran.
Ferran is reunited with director Rebecca Frecknall and several other cast members for this version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, the tale of three metropolitan siblings struggling with life in provincial obscurity.
While this is a well acted and enjoyable production, it does not quite hit the heights of Summer and Smoke, nor does it match the superlative Uncle Vanya at the Almeida two few years ago.
This is an unusual production, which is not bound by traditional structures like period settings and geographic locations. The characters talk in modern English but long for a future where “women will wear trousers”. They talk of old-fashioned duels and yet pose for Instagram style snaps. The costumes are equally muddled, with hipster fashion mixed with old fashioned military garb.
This is seemingly a deliberate artistic decision but it robs the play of its vital context and also detracts from the empathy we should feel for the three sisters. It is hard to fully feel their rural isolation on a fairly anaemic set, when for all we know they could hop on Aeroflot to get to their promised land.
Despite a staging that works against, rather than with, the story, some exceptional performances keep the show on the road. The three sisters have superb chemistry and are entirely believable as siblings, with all the love and bickering that comes with it.
Patsy Ferran is typically excellent as the earnest older sister Olga, although the casting does jar slightly given her exceptionally youthful looks. Pearl Chanda was suitably sardonic as Masha and Ria Zmitrowicz, who is emerging as a real talent, expertly charted Irina’s journey from wide eyed to world-wearied.
However, for me, the most compelling performance was Elliot Levey as Fyodor, Masha’s hapless husband, who is oblivious to her infidelity. Levey plays this truly pitiful character brilliantly, extracting all the comic potential, but also providing some achingly sad moments as he comes to terms with his loveless marriage.
This is certainly not a bad production, containing all of the slow-burning drama and tension that you’d expect from a Chekhov classic. However, at times it feels just as lost and in need of the clarity that Olga, Masha and Irina are striving for.
Until 1 June 2019