This new version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, directed and written by Ross McGregor, largely leaves the play undisturbed in text and production: a depiction of the grinding awfulness everyday life, hopes and disappointments can be. This means that this Three Sisters remains the largely desperate, often funny piece it usually is, and while this production is slick and level-headed for the most part, it cries out a little for some risk-taking.
The play boasts an ‘intimacy director’ (Yarit Dor), and while I think this is a rather lovely title, there could simply could have been more of it; the intimacy that is. The most intimate moment was probably the sing-along led by the Baron (Conor Moss) uniting and lighting up the faces of most of the characters (if this was you, Yarit Dor, then well done). But while terrible things happen in the lives of these characters, Chekhov’s point is that similar things happen to all of us, unavoidably, and we live through it, as they do – we should see be able to see and feel that. We don’t have the sense here, though, that the characters even like each other much, which makes it all seem more maudlin and removed, as if lacking subtlety.
There are several strong performances: you feel the suffering of Cornelia Baumann, Claire Bowman and Victoria Llewellyn’s sisters and Hannah Victory’s Natasha is sympathetically petty. McGregor’s script is an accessible entry point for those encountering the play for the first time like myself (though the choice of ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ for Masha to mumble is an odd choice), and the energy is kept up between the large cast, who cause the small stage of the Jack Studio Theatre to brim. The second half doesn’t quite hold attention in the same way as the first, however, which might be simply because the moments of joy and connection are so much more rare.
Some of the musical choices are slightly odd: a song on guitar in the first half is most like a modern acoustic, indie number, when it could have been far more obviously Russian, like the Baron’s song at the carnival scene later. The use of the Cinematic Orchestra’s ‘Arrival of the Birds’ to close the play does not feel quite earned: it’s classical and elegant, but also very well known and full of a hopeful emotion lacking in the last moments of Three Sisters. If this production had managed to match or earn that note of piercing hope and beauty, the final impression left on the audience might be more lasting.
Three Sisters is playing at the Jack Studio Theatre until 14 April
Photo: The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre