The Three Sisters is considered among one of Chekhov’s most brilliant, but perhaps lesser known plays. The story centres on the Pozorov family of sisters Olga, Masha and Irina and their brother Andrei. With the family leaving Moscow some eleven years prior to the start of the play, and both parents recently deceased, the siblings yearn to be back in their home city, but there’s always something holding them back. The girls make fun of the locals who they see as lacking culture and beneath them, and their sources of excitement come from the military men who are stationed in the town whereas Andrei is enchanted by a local girl, Natasha. As the play progresses, so does the Pozorov’s dissatisfaction and longing for something more.
Each character has a different way of dealing with their uncertainty; when we meet the youngest sister Irina on her 20th birthday, she is jubilant to have discovered the meaning of life is to work, although her enthusiasm for her job at the post office and then the county council quickly wanes as she does not find the meaning she was promised. Victoria Llewellyn successfully portrays this naivete hardening to eventual capitulation as the piece progresses. The soldier Vershinin however, played by Toby Wynn Davies, has a more philosophical refrain. Unhappily married with a wife who repeatedly attempts suicide and starts an affair with Masha, he hopes that the things we do in this life make small changes that will accumulate to overhaul the lives of those in the future.
While this may seem rather depressing, as with life, there are plenty of distractions that pivot away from the more dour moments; servants and lower ranking soldiers provide light relief as does Masha’s ill suited husband (played by Stephen MacNeice) who, even at the most trying times, is ready with a prop or a joke to lighten the mood. Conor Moss as Baron Tuzenbach, whose love for Irena is painfully unrequited, hits the perfect balance between goofy and endearing in his pursuits.
With a large cast of fourteen, densely packed sets and musical interludes, this is a decadent and impressive show from Arrows and Traps Theatre Company, richly evoking 19th century Russian sensibilities. However, the disillusionment and quest for meaning are very modern concerns that feel as relevant today as ever.
“definite shades of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr from the fifties romance ‘An Affair to Remember’”
It has often been said that good books make bad plays and vice versa. A generalisation I know, yet examples are rare of adaptations that stand as pieces of work in their own right – and interestingly these usually occur when the playwright takes liberties with the source material. Writer and director Mark Giesser’s adaptation of “The Lady with a Dog” is one of those rare examples. He has modernised Chekhov’s endearing classic short story about infidelity, obsession and secrecy, planting it into 1920s England, without losing any of the fine moral conundrums inherent in the original.
Damian Granville (Richard Lynson) is a banker on holiday, without his wife, on the Scottish coast who becomes intrigued with a young woman (Beth Burrows) and her small Pomeranian dog. He uses the dog to strike up a conversation, learns that she is called Anne Dennis, and that she is married but also on holiday without her husband. Over the days, Damian and Anne see a lot of each other and grow close. Lynson gives a fine performance as the older man intrigued by the exuberant naïveté of another potential ‘conquest’. In Chekhov’s original the character initially comes off as quite unlikeable: a serial philanderer who regards women as the ‘lower race’, but thankfully Lynson dispels any sense of misogyny with his fine-tuned portrayal, while Burrows delightfully betrays a sharpness beneath Anne’s innocence as she teases and flirts with him. There are definite shades of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr from the fifties romance ‘An Affair to Remember’ and the two actors here share the same sizzling chemistry.
Played out on Oscar Selfridge’s striking art deco set, the intensity of the affair is given added poignancy with the introduction of the respective spouses. A brilliantly clever device; they appear as figments of the imagination, meandering between conscience and flashback, before solidifying into real protagonists. Laura Glover, as Elaine Granville, is a master of the ‘put-down’ and she fills the space with a performance that manages to strike a perfect balance between scorn and resigned affection for her husband. Duncan MacInnes is magnificent, too, as the cuckolded husband to Anne. Far from being Chekov’s wet-blanket, MacInnes shows an inner strength that somehow makes Anne’s infidelity less demeaning.
There are great moments of comedy too, particularly during a delightful scene in a cinema where Damian mischievously places himself next to Anne and her husband, and another later scene where the two couples confront each other. These are extraneous to Chekhov’s story, and it is moments such as these that give real flesh to the bare bones of the story. I did wonder how such a slim tale could be padded out into a two-hour drama, but this production succeeds. Full of bittersweet charm it captures the spirit of the age while exploring the ageless mystery of love and commitment.