The Theatreguide.London Review
Almeida Theatre Spring 2019
Frecknall's vision of Chekhov's drama is a modernising one,
occasionally awkward but often successful in freeing the play from
the burdens of a century of too-often lazy and unimaginative
stagings. But its major accomplishment is to stay out of the way of
That may sound like
faint praise, but in today's
directorial climate a production that doesn't impose an obtrusive and
idiosyncratic filter between play and audience is to be celebrated.
lies in seeing the play and characters in modern
terms, freeing them from accumulated assumptions and type-casting.
The stage is
all-but-bare, the characters in plain modern dress. It
may seem like a small thing, but when most of the male characters are
military, removing all the period Chocolate Soldier uniforms rescues
the play from an old-fashioned operetta feel.
(Of course, along with
adaptor Cordelia Lynn's fluidly contemporary dialogue, all sense of
time and place and of Russian-ness is lost, but that proves no great
Director Frecknall has
guided her actors to escape
traditional short-cuts and cliches of characterisation in refreshing
Take Olga, the eldest of
the eponymous sisters, for example.
She is almost always played as a dessicated old maid, but Patsy
Ferran reminds us that she's only 28 at the play's opening, and can
sometimes think, feel and sound almost like a teenager.
The basic arc
of the play is that everyone declines as time goes by and their small
world shrinks even further, and Ferran attractively gives Olga what
too many previous Olgas have lacked – a starting point from which
The youngest sister,
Irina, has traditionally been even
more tightly limited by imagining and playing her as an archetypal
virginal ingenue and nothing more. But Ria Zmitrowicz discovers that
Irina has sensitivity and intelligence, with moments of sounding more
grown-up than anyone else.
In Shakespearean terms,
she is more Juliet
than Ophelia, making the character and her emotional adventure far
more complex and simply more interesting than most Irinas have been
The middle sister Masha
has generally been allowed more
individuality and depth than the others, and Pearl Chandra takes her
a little further, playing her both more internally than usual, using
Masha's frequent silences to show us an intelligence observing and
processing what's going on around her, and more passionate.
extent that there is a central plot event in the play it is Masha's
doomed love affair with the local garrison's new commanding officer.
Chekhov makes it clear that this is a love affair mainly of kindred
spirits and intellects, but director Frecknall and actor Chandra
remind us that such a connection can be both passionate and sexy.
This leads to one
unfortunate moment when Masha and Peter McDonald's
Vershinin roll around the floor in passionate embrace, but also to
the very strong moment a little earlier when they stand fifteen feet
apart just talking and the sexual energy between them is palpable.
These small but
liberating tweaks extend to other characters as well.
In previous productions Vershinin always threatened to become a bore,
constantly speechifying about his philosophical hobby horses. But
simply by playing him as casually chatting or occasionally thinking
out loud rather than as lecturing, Peter McDonald makes him more
realistic and attractive.
Not everything works. As
I suggested, that
on-the-floor moment is a bit too much, burdening Lois Chimimba's
Natasha with a working-class British accent goes in the wrong
direction by lazily typing her, and the mainly bare stage sometimes
makes the play seem to be all about constantly moving a few chairs
But if this happens to be your first Three Sisters you will see Chekhov's play unhindered by excessive 'interpretation' and if it is your second or third or tenth, you will find refreshing touches newly illuminating over-familiar bits of the play and characters.
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