Two adaptations of Chekhov’s 1900 play Three Sisters hit London this year, and first up it’s the turn of the Almeida.
With the success of Uncle Vanya in 2016, the Islington-based theatre is hoping to continue its track record for making Chekhov feel fresh. This time, however, even with up-and-coming playwright Cordelia Lynn’s reworking, the play fails to hit the mark.
As the name suggests, the piece follows three sisters at the turn of the 20th century – Olga, the eldest, Masha, the middle child, and Irina, the youngest – who we meet following the death of their father. The siblings, while milling around their home of grandeur in a provincial Russian town, yearn for a life different to the one they’ve been dealt, and a return to their birthplace of Moscow.
The piece is both packed with events and yet feels completely void of any true drama. As the night unfolds we see affairs, despair, and breakdowns but none of it seems to come across with any relevance. After years and years of austerity in Britain, am I really supposed to get invested in the shallow plight of a privileged trio and their various acquaintances?
Chekhov’s play discusses happiness, the future, and fulfilment in what can’t fail to come across in a fairly patronising way. The monologues on life’s ‘purpose’ jarring with the natural dialogue to create an uncomfortable, preaching tone to the show’s messages and themes. Meanwhile, the constant idolisation of ‘real work’ from several characters simply reeks of privilege and makes it almost impossible to empathise with any of them.
There are some plus points in this Almeida production, though. With director Rebecca Fracknall (who recently oversaw the five-star revival of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke at the Almeida and in the West End) at the helm, we get a beautiful and breathtaking show to look at.
The design and direction manage to make the space feel both vast and intimate in the same stroke. These, early on, combine with some stunning choreography and clean-cut movement, but for some reason, this gets dropped further into the show with set changes starting to feel long and forgotten about. The less said about the use of projection, the better, too.
We get to see some wonderful turns from Pearl Chanda, Olivier Award-winning Patsy Ferran, and Ria Zmitrowicz as our titular trio, and a fine ensemble cast which includes a commanding performance from Alan Williams as Ivan Romanovich Chebutykin.
Overall, it simply seems like Cordelia Lynn and the Almeida just haven’t gone far enough in making this play relevant for 2019, with poor dialogue around the subjects of mental illness and suicide, and with the men falling hopelessly in love with the women, but only describing their physical appearance as they do so. You sit there for the most part simply wondering “why is this play being put on?”
“Do you ever wonder what would happen if we could live our lives all over again but be fully conscious of it the second time?” utters Aleksandr Ignatyevich Vershinin, played by Peter McDonald, as Chekhov’s play attempts to explore the future and our limited lives. The answer? I’d save myself some time and give this show a miss.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Three Sisters runs at the Almeida until May 25.
Words by Ollie Cole. Images by Marc Brenner (rehearsal gallery).
This article was sponsored by Grand Marnier. We recommend starting your evening at the theatre with a delicious Grand Marnier cocktail at the bar. Try a Grand Tonic: featuring Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge, Fever Tree Lemon Tonic, an orange slice and raspberry garnish, it’s the perfect pairing for a night of culture.
Or alternatively, we recommend The Grand 75, a classic Champagne Cocktail with a refined twist of Orange and Cognac made up of Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge, lemon juice and topped up with Champagne. 18+ only. Please drink responsibly. For all the facts, visit drinkaware.co.uk.