Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, London – until 14 April 2018
Now in their fifth year, Arrows and Traps have been building quite the reputation as a shining example of how to do fringe theatre. Cultivating relationships with theatres (they’re once more at the Brockley Jack) and creatives (beyond notions of repertory, it is pleasing to see familiar names pop up in production after production and not just as actors) and above all, producing theatre that people want to see.
And Chekhov’s Three Sisters, presented here in a new version by Ross McGregor, continues that strong tradition, paring back the starch to locate a real emotional directness to the trials of the Prozorov sisters. Trapped in the cultural desert of the provinces, far from the beloved Moscow of their childhood, the rise and fall of their hopes and dreams are traced over four crucial years.
There’s beautifully detailed work from Cornelia Baumann’s painfully self-critical Olga, unable to stop watching the years pass in the mirror, Victoria Llewellyn’s bright-eyed Irina, slowly resigning herself to the realities of the world and Claire Bowman’s astonishing read of Masha, whose feelings seem to be dialled up to their absolute maximum, almost too much to bear with.
With this much spirit and a household that is full of music and life (beautifully designed by Odin Corie, music by Takeshi Furukawa), there’s a fresh take on the emotional stasis at the heart of the play. The oft-repeated desire to return to Moscow is as much about the grass is greener… than a definitive imperative. With handsome soldiers paying them attention (strong work from both Toby Wynn-Davies’ Vershinin and Conor Moss’ Baron), life isn’t so bad.
Their tragedy comes in the way that they let that life pass by them, characterised by the growth in stature of Hannah Victory’s well-judged Natasha. From the easily mocked girlfriend of their brother to his wife and then head of the household, she gains all that she wants and more, a perfectly cruel and ever-present reminder to all of the Prozorovs of the perils of inaction.
The only real criticism (of sorts) I can muster comes from the level of expectation that Arrows and Traps now bring to the table for me. From the swirling romanticism of Anna Karenina to the cross-cutting narratives of Frankenstein, their adaptations have been thrillingly inventive and it is only on this level that Three Sisters doesn’t quite stand out as much as their best work, Chekhov presumably being as stubbornly resistant to as much substantive change as so many of his characters.
That aside, this is an accessible and enjoyable take on Chekhov which shouldn’t be missed.