Three Sisters, Young Vic | Theatre reviews, news & interviews
Three Sisters, Young Vic
Benedict Andrews' energetic update is stronger on ensemble work than individual performances
Updating Chekhov is nothing new, despite the preliminary flurries about this production. Yet the singular directorial take can only highlight the master’s modernity in the bigger issues. If Australian iconoclast Benedict Andrews had continued as he seems to begin, with a Stanislavsky-like realism for today, passing anachronisms like the optimism for a better life in centuries to come, the idleness of a servanted household and a shockingly abrupt duel might jar. But phantasmagorical moments keep breaking through until the tenuous security of the three sisters stuck in a provincial Russian backwater is literally dismantled. The only problem is that what starts as energetic ensemble work ends up calling for more explosive existential crises than some of the actors are as yet capable of conveying.
The teamwork fluidly directed by Andrews certainly carries the text he has adapted from Helen Rappaport’s working translation. There’s no dislocation between authentic Chekhovian meditations on the meaning of life and work on the one hand and the healthy peppering of "fucks" which convey the frustrations of Masha and her brother Andrey. A pertinent Bowie refrain, "Golden Years" as symbol of Masha’s yearning, and a convincingly spontaneous group rendition of Kurt Cobain’s "Smells like Teen Spirit" on the night of the carnival sit easily alongside sentimental piano turns and Chebutykin’s authentic "Ta ra ra boom de-ay" in Act Four. Paul Arditti’s soundscape adds immeasurably to the atmosphere, not least in the wind howling round the house and the threatening low-level hum of helicopters as the regiment leaves town.
Movement is so free and easy in the first two acts, the hope for something better so vibrant, that you almost overlook the sisters’ physical distance from one another across the vasts of grey tables that represent the floor of the Prozorov house in Johannes Schütz’s chilly design. As the tables are slowly removed during the catalytic night of the town fire in Act Three, the women are forced closer even as they begin to feel their isolation the more, ending up huddled together on the earth mound at the back wall of the acting space.
Their very different characters are deftly suggested at the start: Mariah Gale’s Olga, the sensible teacher – with one comic moment when she turns up inside a bear suit on carnival night - Vanessa Kirby mannered and nervy as glam-in-black Masha, beautiful newcomer Gala Gordon an ingénue Irina whose enthusiasms ring fresh and true. That they remain a little one-dimensional in the later crises, emoting without quite plumbing the depths, is mitigated by strengths elsewhere in a cast with few weak links; only Michael Feast’s Chebutykin overplays his hand in a barely intelligible drunken binge. Emily Barclay lights up the stage as the gauche Natasha, a tattooed Aussie wrapped up in a green ribbon, who turns into a domestic monster wreaking revenge on the condescension of her husband’s sisters. Danny Kirrane’s Andrey, the brother of promise gone to seed in a tracksuit pushing a pram around the stage, and Sam Troughton’s vigorous Tuzenbach find more pathos in their endgames than the actresses.
William Houston brings sonorous modulations to Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin’s art of philosophy as seduction, even if the fast-developing relationship with Kirby’s Masha (pictured above) feels less than central. But then the last time it did, in the Moscow Sovremennik Theatre Company’s visit to London, the rest of the cast lagged well behind the ill-fated couple, and that you could never say of this team. The outcome may be less than heartbreaking, but Andrews is sure enough of Chekhov’s trajectory to sweep his actors vigorously along with him.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
A new approach to immersive theatre aims to deliver more interactive thrills at Aynhoe Park
Imelda Staunton stars in American import about class which is both funny and moving
Emil and the Mormons: a bit of everything in theartsdesk's tips
Our mobile phone culture is put to the test of participatory theatre
The actor turned Sheffield artistic director who has taken The Full Monty to the West End
Peter Gill’s new play about the end of the First World War is a long, hard slog
Period silliness proves fun - up to a point
New musical about the woman who created the London map is full of promise
Comedy that bares its soul, among other things
How do you solve a problem like Orlando? Virginia Woolf's love letter cheerfully adapted
Stage version lacks the emotional punch of Mark Herman's film
'August: Osage County' writer returns with story of life in a besieged Chicago eatery