devised by Hot Coals Theatre Ensemble inspired by Anton Chekhov’s play Three Sisters.

Park Theatre (Park 90) Clifton Terrace Finsbury Park N4 3JP To 16 March 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat & Sun 3.15pm.
Runs 1hr 5min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7870 6876.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 February.

Broad physical comedy successfully grafted on to Chekhov’s famous trio.
No dramatist understood his female characters more than Anton Chekhov. But when he left the Prozorov women, his Three Sisters, looking towards the dawning 20th-century, accepting they’d never leave their small-minded town for intellectual, cultural Moscow, he left them largely the right side of middle-age.

Hot Coals’ young performers have, between them, played these three, and now fast-forward them imaginatively over the hill, charming youthful ways congealed into tedious mannerisms. And wherever they live, the huddled shabbiness of Fian Andrews’ set shows it’s no area of intellect or culture.

Storm in a Teacup’s title refers to Chekhov’s statement on his dramatic method: people drink tea while their lives fall apart. But as they clamber over each other to find their spectacles, even tea – by the cup not samovar as location somehow shifts to London – becomes an expression of mutual irritations. The preoccupation of age with bodily functions exacerbates the fray.

Margot Courtemanche’s Olga, the eldest, her ever-widening girth leading to increasing inelegance, orchestrates what’s moved from organisation into unthinking routine, while Clare-Louise English shows Masha sunk from deep-feeling to a sharp, and definitely prosthetic, nosed operator, interfering in others’ activities, and Jo Sargeant’s young Irina (it’s still her birthday, as in Chekhov) has girlish energy and a too-fixed smile attached to a stiffening body.

The piece should go down a storm, bringing some of theatre’s finest-drawn characters into collision with life’s cruelties through consistently inventive comic burlesque in Alice Robinson’s production (at one point, everyone’s pills are mixed-up, making them all sick, unlike Cherry Orchard’s Semyon-Pischik who swallows a bottle of pills with no harmful effect).

The characters say almost nothing, words coming from their multiple telephones, urging them with institutional sweetness, and, in one ironic case, finely-observed Russian cadences, towards a care home in Battersea.

And there’s an eviction notice; for, in a piece which comes close to moving wild laughter in the throat of death, Chekhov’s Prozorov sisters, among the most vibrant individuals in theatre, have become old dogs to be swept into some convenient institutional corner. This time, though, the end contrasts Chekhov’s with a defiant line-up.

Olga: Margot Courtemanche.
Irina: Jo Sargeant.
Masha: Clare-Louise English.

Director: Alice Robinson.
Designer: Fian Andrews.
Lighting: Celia Dugua.
Sound/Music: Alice Robinson. Celia Dugua.
Costume: Jo Sargeant.

2014-02-23 12:51:30

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