When studying Chekhov, students are often told of the comedy in his plays, something that can seem unattainable when looking at the tragedy that so often unfolds. However, in Benedict Andrews’s remarkable new version of Three Sisters, comedy and tragedy touch the audience in equal measure, delighting and yet leaving an aching sadness.
Andrews, who adapted and directed this version of Three Sisters, creates a world that is neither that of the nineteenth century nor modern day, but of both (rock songs are sung yet Natasha still carries a candle for light). This decision to live in two different time periods creates a non-naturalistic idea that allows the audience to suspend their disbelief and accept the world that is presented before them. Andrews’s direction flows beautifully, constantly bringing new ideas to the piece. This is a director who completely understands how to portray his thoughts and beliefs through the arc of the story, and through the performances and ideas on stage.
The simple set changes throughout the piece; it begins with a large thrust, created by numerous grey tables and a dirt mound at the back (with the grey tables featured throughout to create beds, different playing levels and more). The dirt mound creates an especially striking visual at the end when the Prosorov sisters are left standing alone in despair with an empty stage, no longer containing any of their earlier furniture or possessions. This an intensely visual production and most moments seem almost photographic.
I was truly astounded by some of the performances, which were nuanced and touching. I was particularly fond of Danny Kirrane’s comic Andrey, Emily Barclay’s Aussie Natasha, Sam Troughton’s charming Tuzenbach and Adrian Schiller’s misunderstood Kulygin. However, Mariah Gale and Vanessa Kirby’s respective performances were most striking. Kirby’s mere presence is enough to make you watch her, but the connection to her emotional and physical selves and the fluidity that she brought to the life of the character really breathed life into Masha. Even in group scenes I found myself looking at Kirby, whose Masha simply demanded attention and took control of the stage. Mariah Gale’s intensely skilled portrayal of Olga shows the character’s journey throughout the piece. More akin to playing the likes of Shakespeare’s Juliet or Celia, it is nice to see her take on a more matronly character (proving that she is a flexible actress not bound by her youthful looks). When Olga breaks down in tears at the end you can’t help but feel drawn to this character who has been strong and resilient throughout the piece. Gale’s was an emotional portrayal that truly made me empathise with the character.
I was left reeling after Andrews’s production of Three Sisters, in a very good way. This is simply a great production and, whilst it may not be for the traditionalists, it connects the audience with the emotions and journeys of the characters (which surely all great theatre should do). The Young Vic’s Three Sisters is a must see.
There Sisters is playing at Young Vic Theatre until 13 October. For more information and tickets, see the Young Vic website.