‘The spell this production casts is compelling’: THREE SISTERS – Almeida Theatre ★★★★

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Carole WoddisLeave a Comment

Almeida Theatre, London – until 25 May 2019

Whichever way you cut it, Chekhov’s Three Sisters is about loss, mounting loss and how to cope with it. But then, you might adapt that to Chekhov’s two other mighty tragedies, Uncle Vanya and eminently The Cherry Orchard. Recent years have seen British productions of Three Sisters consistently stripped back to bare essentials.

Both Sean Holmes’ and Filter in 2010 (Lyric Hammersmith) and Benedict Andrews’ 2012 Young Vic production made the play seem as though speaking particularly to contemporary modes of thought and fashion: passivity and a kind of deadening ‘cool Britannia’ cynicism in the former; dynamic radicalism in the latter.

The achievement of Rebecca Frecknall’s new production, as with her recent mega success with Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke is to speak to modern sensitivities with a clarity of vision that struck this viewer anyway as turning Three Sisters into a young person’s rite of passage. As with any great classic, Frecknall catches its timelessness lifting it beyond any parochial time setting.

On Hildegard Bechtler’s bare platform set, decked out merely with chairs and occasional side lamps, Frecknall’s Three Sisters carries an abstract quality and yet a terrific philosophical tug. It’s there of course in Chekhov’s writing – the constant talk about hope in a better future, the impossibility of understanding life’s meaning, our miniscule place in the greater scheme of things.

And so much hope lies beneath Chekhov’s Three Sisters. It keeps bubbling up only to be dashed over and over again by circumstances. In the end, those three sisters’ yearning to return to Moscow could be applied in this production to any and all of us in the sense that though we may start out with dreams, some are never going to be realised. We are never going to get to Moscow.

Yet somehow, as with Uncle Vanya’s wonderful Sonya, Olga, Masha and Irina will find a way to carry on living, despite despair, loss and disillusionment.

If Frecknall’s production doesn’t quite capture that final cathartic moment of tragic stoicism, still the spell her production casts is compelling.

And true. From the moment a thunderous, sombre cello opens the production announcing the anniversary of the death of a much loved father that has left the three sisters stranded in this provincial Russian backwater, over the course of the next three hours, that petty provincialism is shown to grind the life and aspiration out of each of the sisters and their talented brother, Andrey, who possibly succumbs the worst of all.

Unlike other radical reworkings of classics at the Almeida, Frecknall has the grace and confidence to actually trust her text, freshly `adapted’ by Cordelia Lynn.

No search here to gabble and rush things, just a steady heartbeat describing states of being, reactions and responses from a wonderful cast, headed by Patsy Ferran’s Olga – a study in quiet desperation – Pearl Chanda’s angry, bored Masha and Ria Zmitrowicz’s glowing Irina, but equally deadened by pettiness.

Peter McDonald’s Vershinin, with the hint of an Irish accent, emerges as an eternal optimist contrasted with Alan Williams’ utterly self hating doctor, Chebutykin whilst Lois Chimimba makes a terrifying Glaswegian accented Natasha, the outsider who gradually takes over the household, smashing kinder older sensibilities as she goes, as if Chekhov were saying, `change must come but progress doesn’t always bring with it a kinder world. Something is lost’.

Miraculously too, this production places even its most unsympathetic characters – Natasha, Solyony, Andrey and others – in their own light. Each speaks their own truth, the truth of their lives with a passion and clarity that makes them understandable if not likeable.

In its own terms, a great production. I loved it.

Three Sisters
by Anton Chekhov
in a version by Cordelia Lynn

Cast:

Masha Sergeyevna: Pearl Chanda
Natasha Ivanovna: Lois Chimimba
Vasily Vasilevich Solyony: Alexander Eliot
Olga Sergeyevna: Patsy Ferran
Anfisa: Annie Firbank
Fyodor Ilyich Kulygin: Elliot Levey
Ferapoint Spiridonych: Eric MacLennan
Alexander Ignatevich Vershinin: Peter McDonald
Andrey Sergeyevich: Freddie Meredith
Vladimir: Sonny Poon Tip
Nikolay Lvovich Tuzenbach: Shubham Saraf
Alexey (Little Alex): Akshay Sharan
Ivan Romanovich Chebutykin: Alan Williams
Irina Sergeyevna: Ria Zmitrowicz

Adaptation: Cordelia Lynn
Direction: Rebecca Frecknall
Design: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting: Jack Knowles
Sound: George Dennis
Composition: Angus MacRae
Casting: Julia Horan CDG
Costume Supervision: Laura Hunt
Resident Director: Ebenezer Bambgboye

First perf of this production of Three Sisters at Almeida Theatre, April 6, 2019; runs to June 1, 2019

Review posted on this site, April 22, 2019

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Carole Woddis
Carole Woddis has been a theatre journalist and critic for over 30 years. She was London reviewer and feature writer for Glasgow’s The Herald for 12 years and for many other newspapers and magazines. She now review for websites including The Arts Desk, Reviews Gate and London Grip and blogs independently at woddisreviews.org.uk. Carole is also the author of: The Bloomsbury Theatre Guide with Trevor T Griffiths; a collection of interviews with actresses, Sheer Bloody Magic (Virago), and Faber & Faber’s Pocket Guide to 20th Century Drama with Stephen Unwin. For ten years, she was a Visiting Tutor in Journalism at Goldsmiths College and for three years with City University. Earlier in her career, she worked with the RSC, National Theatre, Round House and Royal Ballet as a publicist and as an administrator for other theatre and dance organisations.
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Carole Woddis on RssCarole Woddis on Twitter
Carole Woddis
Carole Woddis has been a theatre journalist and critic for over 30 years. She was London reviewer and feature writer for Glasgow’s The Herald for 12 years and for many other newspapers and magazines. She now review for websites including The Arts Desk, Reviews Gate and London Grip and blogs independently at woddisreviews.org.uk. Carole is also the author of: The Bloomsbury Theatre Guide with Trevor T Griffiths; a collection of interviews with actresses, Sheer Bloody Magic (Virago), and Faber & Faber’s Pocket Guide to 20th Century Drama with Stephen Unwin. For ten years, she was a Visiting Tutor in Journalism at Goldsmiths College and for three years with City University. Earlier in her career, she worked with the RSC, National Theatre, Round House and Royal Ballet as a publicist and as an administrator for other theatre and dance organisations.

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