THREE SISTERS, 4Star****, to 04 02. London

by Anton Chekhov.
A new version by Tracy Letts.
4Stars ****

The Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR to 4 February 2017.
Tues- Sat 7.30pm/
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7261 9676.
Review: William Russell 6 January.

An enchanting staging of a much performed play.
The Union’s new premises have presented directors with challenges since it opened last summer that not all of them have overcome, but Phil Willmott’s staging of Three Sisters is a visual delight. He has set it in the round and the characters move across the stage space, exiting while the action carries on out of sight, and then swirling back in. The result is fluid, always watchable and makes brilliant use of the acting space. One can only admire.

The play has also been beautifully lit by Sean Gleason and there is a hugely effective background sound track of the life outside the house in which the three sisters, Olga, Masha and Irina, live coping with an everyday world that is changing while dreaming of going back to Moscow.

This is, with some reservations, a splendid revival. I do not quite see what Tracy Letts has brought to iChekhov– there are umpteen versions of the play by other writers every bit as effective – and Willmott’s decision to keep the period vague in which it is happening is questionable. The problem with taking the sisters out of 1905 – which is when the play is set – is that while one can accept the restrictions of the time, given the fact it now could be today or the day before yesterday, one gets rather fed up with their inability to escape from the provincial backwater in which they are trapped. The limbo in which the play is now being performed takes more away that it bestows.

That said, however, this is a beautifully staged, well performed production and augurs well for the three play season the Willmott company is embarking on at the Union. Playing in the round is tricky at the best of times and not everyone is as audible as they could be. That soundtrack, effective though it is, can muffle words already not sufficiently clearly spoken. But this should improve as the cast get to grips with the venue. Celine Abrahams (Olga), Ivy Corbun (Masha) and Molly Crookes (Irina, the youngest and most irritating of the trio, the one whose dreams are totally dashed at the end) are nicely contrasted and there is a stunningly bitchy Natasha from Francesca Burgoyne, the sister in law they despise, arguably the one woman who comes out on top. Ashley Russell is an impressive Vershinin, the married officer who cannot leave his wife, a gloriously decrepit Anfisa, the aged peasant maid, from Corinna Marlowe, a beautifully selfish and uncaring Chebutykin, the inevitable Chekhov parasitical drunk, from J. P. Turner and a nicely puppyish and dim Tusenbach from Tom Malmed. All in all this is a really good evening.

Olga: Celine Abrahams.
Natasha: Francesca Burgoyne.
Andrey: Benjamin Chandler.
Masha: Ivy Corbin.
Irina: Molly Crookes.
Rode: Will Henry.
Fedotic: Jonathan James,
Tusenbach: Tom Malmed.
Anfisa: Corinna Marlowe.
Solyony: Hugo Nicholson.
Kulygin: Steven Rodgers.
Vershinin: Ashley Russell.
Chebutykin: J.P. Turner.
Ferapont: Lawrence Werber.

Director: Phill Willmott.
Costume Designer: Penn O’Gara.
Lighting Designer: Sean Gleason.
Sound Designer: Sebastian Atterbury.
Assistant Director: Nastazjda Domaradzka.

2017-01-08 15:18:20

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