by Anton Chekhov.
Noel Coward Theatre St Martin’s Lane WC2N 4AU To 25 January 2011.
Runs 3hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5138.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 January.
From Moscow, the play about wishing to go to Moscow, with detail and energy.
It’s Chekhov week at the Noel Coward. Which sounds like a form of cultural revenge, but simply means Moscow Sovremennik Theatre performs, for two nights each, Three Sisters, and (on Friday and Saturday) Cherry Orchard. Galina Volchek’s production of the earlier play underlines the instability of life for the Prozorov sisters in their provincial town of 100,000 souls.
After Uncle Vanya Chekhov had said his next play wouldn’t be set in the country. But town-life remains peripheral – the army must be billeted somewhere throughout the three year action, and the third act has fire-engines sounding offstage. Yet, when Volchek takes the sisters – as at start and finish – out of the nursery-like cosiness of the surrounding décor, it’s to isolate them on a bridge arching across the stage, swept by wind and snow.
In an evening placing realistic human lives amid heightened theatrical devices, the home – represented by isolated pieces of furniture – repeatedly sweeps round in circles, at rare moments of exhilaration, but also, accompanied by flashing lights, signifying lives out of control. As time passes, Masha’s complacent husband Kulygin grows grey and stiff, young Irina rests in the rocking-chair used by old Chebutykin (seen temporarily fighting the temptation of alcohol), before it becomes a cradle for Masha’s grief when her lover marches away.
Love means abandoning dignity, as the usually bitter-tongued Solyony walks on his knees after Irina, before placing his weeping head in her skirt. And as Masha gives way utterly at Vershinin’s imminent departure, throwing herself onto him, clinging desperately across the stage.
Only a moment later they meet on the bridge, her fortitude keeping her upright as he walks past in the public space, in the wake of the soldiers who have marched that way to Moisey Vainberg’s abrasive final act score. This is how the Lieutenant Colonel’s optimistic philosophising ends, marching in step with the demands of the military life.
Meanwhile, strongly contrasted by their openly manipulative, cunning sister-in-law Natalia – openly signalling to her lover from the window – Sovremennik’s Prozorov women, played with depth and detail, stand firm whatever blows life aims at them.
Andrey Prozorov: Ilya Drevnov.
Natalia Ivanovna: Marina Alexandrove/Elena Plaksina.
Olga: Olga Drozdova.
Masha: Chulpan Khamatova/Alyona Babenko.
Irina: Viktoria Romanenko.
Kulygin: Sergey Yushkevich.
Vershinin: Vladislav Vetrov.
Tuzenbach: Ivan Stebunov.
Solyony: Artur Smolyaninov.
Chebutykin: Igor Kvasha.
Rode: Evgeny Pavlov.
Ferapont: Gennady Frolov.
Anfisa: Tamara Degtyareva/Elena Millioti.
Batman: Rashid Nezametdinov.
Maskers/Fire Victims/Soldiers: Sergey Girin, Kirill Mazharov, Rashid Nezametdinov, Vadim Baranov, Sergey Prokhorov.
Director: Galina Volchek.
Designers: Pyotr Kirillov, Vyacheslav Zaitsev.
Lighting: Damir Ismagilov.
Music: Moisey Vainberg.
Costume: Vyacheslav Zaitsev.