by Anton Chekhov new version by Anya Reiss from a literal translation by Ilona Kohanchuk.
Southwark Playhouse (The Large) 77-85 Newington Causeway S1 6BD To 3 May 2014.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 April.
Same names, different settings form a commentary on the original.
Women enjoy being hit says a male character in one of Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquests. A female character agrees they do. “In books. By men.”
How much a writer can escape their own posiition is tested in writers like Ayckbourn, and Anton Chekhov – both credited with a rare breadth of understanding. Chekhov had written about middle-aged men in Uncle Vanya, just as he was becoming middle-aged himself. But his Three Sisters are younger women, in whom hope only gradually dies.
And an even younger woman, Anya Reiss, has recreated them, along with some fine young actors, set amid a group of often older men, relocated from provincial Russia to a British embassy somewhere in the modern world, probably around the Middle East (as a European perspective sees things).
That sets other challenges for Southwark Playhouse audiences. Middle sister Masha loves visiting officer (here, aptly, liaison officer) Vershinin, but is bogged-down in a marriage to tedious teacher Kulygin. It’s often easy to laugh at him; less so when he becomes a local, and laughter would take-on a post-imperialist condescension.
But that pays dividends. For Kulygin is an honest, forgiving, decent person. He just doesn’t match the adult temperament of the woman who married him when she was an awed teenager told he had prospects.
Youth is emphasised in the casting. Only in the final act do these sisters seem like mature women; till then they’re like children hardly grown from the protective Diplomatic nursery. The incomplete walls of Anthony Lamble’s grand-scale yet deliberately diffuse setting, suggests incompletely-formed lives.
Along with infusions of modern technology this cuts the sisters down to size, removing the blank remoteness of Tsarist Russia which provides them with protecting historic veils. Here the negative emotions, the sulks, the nastiness to a sister-in-law whose annoying manner is based on love for her children and possible awe of the trio, come to seem pettily spiteful.
As a comment on Chekhov’s play, or as its amplification, Reiss’s version is intriguing, rather than in its independent right. And her retention of Russian names in the Anglo-based setting seems to acknowledge this.
Tusenbach: David Carlyle.
Natasha: Emily Dobbs.
Chebutykin: Michael Garner.
Irina: Holliday Grainger.
Olga: Olivia Hallinan.
Vershinin: Paul McGann.
Ferapont: Dudley Rogers.
Kulygin: Tom Ross-Williams.
Solyony: Joe Sims.
Masha: Emily Taaffe.
Anfisa: Jane Thorne.
Andrey: Thom Tuck.
Director: Russell Bolam.
Designer/Costume: Anthony Lamble.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Max Pappenheim.
Movement: Jenny Ogilvie.
Associate director: Ross Drury.