by Anton Chekhov new version by Ranjit Bolt.
New Diorama 15-16 Triton Street NW1 3BF In rep to 23 February 2013.
7.30pm 23-26 Jan, 1, 8, 16, 19, 23 Feb Mat 2 Feb 11am, 9 Feb 3pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7383 9034.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 January.
Rough-hewn, but vivid and dynamic.
Factionalism continues at the New Diorama with top-flight repertoire. Every nuance of Anton Chekhov’s penultimate play has been analysed and expressed by leading directors and actors. What can a young, comparatively raw company like The Faction add?
A sense of exploration, of testing technique against Chekhov. And energy, helped by the swiftness modern dress allows. Ironies and elegies burst out. The Sisters’ sister-in-law Natasha remains awkwardly rough-edged, but her anger at Anfisa is qualified when we’ve seen the cultured trio and their friends talking about work while their stiff-limbed old family servant slowly arranges the 13 wooden chairs (comprising most of the set) in a line for dinner.
The production’s most astonishing moment involves this line-up; everyone sits and two soldiers take their photo before presenting birthday-girl Irina with a spinning-top. Suddenly, this segment of Russian society sits in a shaft of light, as in a photo, still and silent, concentrating on the whirring, whirling toy, a moment seeming to penetrate the core of Chekhov’s drama.
Nor is Natasha the only one to shout. Each sister has a moment of lost control, even Kate Sawyer’s Olga, who from the start makes unconvincing efforts to give a cheerful lead, while Derval Mallett’s Masha, bored then shaken by love, trembles on a nervous edge till she abandons restraint as her life’s once more destroyed. Elizabeth Twells’ Irina, youngest and virginal in white, retains something childlike until the compromise of a loveless marriage, along with hopes of moving to Moscow, is torn from her. She ends a parody of herself in the mismatched reds of her dress and lurid lipstick.
Read the play and visiting army officer Vershinin’s philosophical speeches can seem dominant. Jonny McPherson’s amiably self-deprecating performance and Mark Leipacher’s ensemble-focused production have the measure of this. There are times Vershinin’s words are mere background to others’ actions. What matters is the way the sisters, and others, cluster around this attractive man from Moscow.
Finally, the chairs are lined in diagonal rows, turned upside down like the characters’ lives – a telling final image in a technically raw but imaginatively thrilling evening.
Ferapont/Rodei: Andrew Chevalier.
Soleni: Richard Delaney.
Chebutikin: Gareth Fordred.
Natasha: Laura Freeman.
Kuligin: Alexander Guiney.
Andrei: Lachlan McCall.
Vershinin: Jonny McPherson.
Masha: Derval Mallett.
Fedotitch: Sam Millard.
Anfisa: Anna-Maria Nabirye.
Tuzenbach: Jonathan Plummer.
Olga: Kate Sawyer.
Irina: Elizabeth Twells.
Director: Mark Leipacher.
Lighting: Martin Dewar.
Composer: Thomas Whitelaw.