WE ARE THREE SISTERS
by Blake Morrison.
Rose Theatre Kingston 24-26 High Street KT1 1HL To 19 November.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 08444 821 556
then York Theatre Royal St Leonard’s Place YO1 1HD 22-26 November 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu 2pm Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 01904 623568.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
Review : Timothy Ramsden 15 November.
Falls between two dramatic stools.
From Northern Broadsides, now nearing the end of their autumn tour, a chance to encounter Chekhov and the Brontës simultaneously in Blake Morrison’s sombre conjunction of Haworth and Russia.
Chekhov wrote a play about three sisters, and was apparently aware of the Brontës, whose brother Branwell lived in real life the downward path of profligacy seen in the Prozorovs’ brother Andrei. Morrison provides playful allusions to seagulls and Rev Brontë’s new curate, who was to have an impact on Charlotte (Reader: she married him).
Yet it’s hard to see the point of it all. A part-fictional story which veers increasingly away from Chekhov and reassembles aspects of the Brontës’ experience means the parallels between the two, which must have seemed a golden dramatic opportunity, end up an encumbrance.
That’s emphasised by memories of Shared Experience’s recent re-tour of Polly Teale’s Brontë, a subtler, more atmospheric, better-acted piece. You don’t get any Chekhov, but the Chekhov aspects here are largely opportunistic, as Morrison never proves any essential link between his two strands. The Brontë world is death-haunted, as Jessica Worrall’s design makes clear, the Haworth parsonage leading to a graveyard, while in Chekhov the problem is life seeming endless.
Yet when Morrison moves away from Chekhov’s structure, he’s dramatically marooned. He reaches a moving moment when the sisters sit round a table, before Anne and Emily move away – the sisters who died before Charlotte. But then there’s another scene sweeping-up moments from Three Sisters in a haphazard extension. So, when the three are finally alone together, again, it’s far less powerful.
Maybe it was adjusting to the spacious Rose after an intimate week in the Round at Newcastle-under-Lyme’s New Vic, but Tuesday’s performance seemed dour and distanced.
The women outdo the men in performance. Catherine Kinsella expresses Charlotte’s practicality, Sophia di Martino Emily’s isolation (though her speech about love, prefiguring Wuthering Heights is old-style Hollywood obvious), Rebecca Hutchinson Anne’s comparative liveliness. Becky Hindley showing that Branwell’s invented cohabitee, in bright green dress, is from a different world without being excessively awful, while Eileen O’Brien is notable and moving as the bent-double old servant.
Charlotte Brontë: Catherine Kinsella.
Anne Brontë: Rebecca Hutchinson.
Emily Brontë: Sophia di Martino.
Patrick Brontë: Duggie Brown.
Doctor: John Branwell.
Tabby: Eileen O’Brien.
Curate: Marc Parry.
Branwell Brontë: Gareth Cassidy.
Teacher: Barrie Rutter.
Lydia Robinson: Becky Hindley.
Director: Barrie Rutter.
Designer: Jessica Worrall.
Lighting: Tim Skelly.
Sound: Kraig Winterbottom.
Music: Conrad Nelson.