Tag Archives: Anton Chekhov

Three Sisters

Three Sisters
★★★★

Vaudeville Theatre

Three Sisters

Three Sisters

Vaudeville Theatre

Reviewed – 19th June 2019

★★★★

 

“The production is visually stunning and the action carefully choreographed, with clear lines of symmetry throughout”

 

Written in 1900, and first performed in 1901, Three Sisters is one of Chekhov’s best known plays. If you’re a theatre lover, chances are you will have seen it performed at least once. What you almost certainly won’t have seen is the play as it was written, in Russian. (Don’t worry, there are surtitles). The Maly Drama Theatre production is in London from St. Petersburg, and plays at the Vaudeville for ten days; it is, quite simply, the best Chekhov this reviewer has seen in thirty years of theatre-going.

The play takes as its subject the lives of three orphaned sisters – Olga, Masha and Irina – who, together with their brother Andrey, live with two old family retainers – Anfisa and Ferapont – in provincial Russia; the family having decamped from the sisters’ beloved Moscow eleven years previously. The action, such as it is, takes place over the course of several years, during which Andrey marries, Irina is courted by various different suitors and Masha has an intense extra-marital romance with one of the visiting soldiers, Vershinin. Ultimately, the soldiers leave, and the family is left adrift. The sisters realise that they will never leave and that their dream of returning to Moscow will never come to pass.

Three Sisters is, of course, a tale of lost hopes, but it is also a hymn to the continuous and eternal flow of life itself; Lev Dodin’s brilliant direction ensures that we never lose sight of this central Chekhovian ambiguity, and that the play, and the characters, steer clear of the mawkish self-indulgence with which they can sometimes be tarnished. Dodin steers with a steady hand, and, with the aid of pitch-perfect lighting and set design (credit here to Damir Ismagilov and Alexander Borovsky) the arc of the play is incredibly clear. The house, quite rightly, has a powerful presence here, and the simple device of the frontage moving ever further downstage as the action proceeds, cleverly underlines the family’s inability to escape.

Dodin likes to paint stage pictures. The production is visually stunning and the action carefully choreographed, with clear lines of symmetry throughout. This stylisation never seems heavy-handed however, continually off-set as it is by the warmth and truth of his talented cast. Hearing the play in its original language frees up the humanity of Chekhov’s characters. Language shapes sensibility, and the sound of spoken Russian lends a humour and warmth to these people that is impossible to capture in translation.

This is not to take away from the enormous skill of the cast. The three sisters themselves – Irina Tychinina as Olga, Ksenia Rappoport as Masha and Ekaterina Tarasova as Irina – are stupendous. Each is perfectly defined against the other, and each woman seems almost to physically transform over the course of the action. This is true too of Ekaterina Kleopina’s Natasha, thoroughly convincing in her journey from gauche intruder to self-satisfied matron. Oleg Ryazantzev charms as the hapless Baron, and Sergey Vlasov’s Kuligin is the perfect mix of provinicial pomposity and tender heartedness. Igor Chernevich’s Vershinin perhaps lacks a bit of Moscow glamour – necessary to attract Masha and work against his lugubrious take on life – but this is a niggle when taking on board the excellent work of the ensemble throughout.

Although the pace does slacken a bit after the interval, and the production loses a bit of drive, the two hours and forty five minutes seems like half that, which is quite something for a surtitled piece of work. All in all, it’s a consummate evening at the theatre. A perfect introduction to Chekhov if you don’t know his work, and an illumination of his genius if you do.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography courtesy Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg

 


Three Sisters

Vaudeville Theatre until 29th June

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Lady Windermere’s Fan | ★★★★ | January 2018
Them/Us | ★★★ | June 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Uncle Vanya
★★★★

Hope Theatre

Uncle Vanya

Uncle Vanya

Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 25th April 2019

★★★★

 

“driven by a kind of energy and commitment that make it hard not to become invested”

 

I have to start this review with a confession. Despite loving theatre, and consistently pretending that I know lots about it, I have never consumed the work of one of its greatest writers. That’s right, I’ve never seen a single minute, nor read a single word, of Chekhov. And so, for me, the Hope Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya was actually quite significant. Would it interest me? Would I understand it? More importantly – would I like it?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Adapted by Brendan Murray, Chekhov’s four expansive acts are stripped down into four tightly directed scenes bursting with emotion. The play begins in the aftermath of the disruption caused by Serebryakov, a former professor who has returned to the family estate along with his young wife Yelena. The estate is thanklessly managed by his brother-in-law Vanya and daughter Sonya, but now Serebryakov has new and worrying plans for it. Meanwhile, Vanya and country doctor Astrov have fallen in love with Yelena, Sonya is hopelessly in love with Astrov, and Vanya’s mother is ignoring them all in the pursuit of women’s rights. They are a family full of hope as well as hopelessness, both longing for something more and relishing the order of conventional life.

Despite the small size of the space, the world of 19th century Russia comes to life brilliantly, as does the emotional core of the play. The portraits on the wall, bureau in the corner, and samovar perpetually present on the dining table give a distinct impression of the era without being too distracting. The only downside of the stage design is that actors often have to squeeze past tables and chairs (and each other) in order to enter and exit. Nevertheless, the use of the space is effective.

There is excellent acting, particularly from Esme Mahoney (Yelena) and Cassandra Hodges (Sonya). Both have gravitas, a strong stage presence, and a firm grasp of their characters’ complexities. Hodges is particularly impressive in the final scene, delivering the closing lines in a bold and moving manner. Rory McCallum’s Serebryakov is both wearying and invigorating; Adrian Wheeler’s Vanya is dry-humoured and world-weary. All capture the inner conflicts of their character in a believable manner, making them sympathetic if not always likeable.

There are places where I wish things had come to life more vigorously. I wish that certain scenes weren’t so rushed, or that more was made of Chekhov’s frequent injections of humour. But these are minor points. On the whole it is very enjoyable – not perfect, but driven by a kind of energy and commitment that make it hard not to become invested.

So if you, like me, desperately need to improve your street cred by finally seeing some Chekhov, this is the show for you. Accessible, well-acted, and engaging: an ideal introduction to the work of a great and complex writer.

 

Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by Cameron Harle

 


Uncle Vanya

Hope Theatre until 11th May

 

Last ten reviewed at this venue:
Medicine | ★★★ | August 2018
The Dog / The Cat | ★★★★★ | September 2018
The Lesson | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jericho’s Rose | ★★★½ | October 2018
Gilded Butterflies | ★★ | November 2018
Head-rot Holiday | ★★★★ | November 2018
Alternativity | ★★★★ | December 2018
In Conversation With Graham Norton | ★★★ | January 2019
The Ruffian On The Stair | ★★★★ | January 2019
Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story | ★★★★★ | April 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com