Three Sisters at Almeida Theatre
Cordelia Lynn and Rebecca Frecknall have done a brave thing in staging Chekhov’s Three Sisters this season, just a year after The Yard in Hackney and in the same summer as an original Russian version at Vaudeville Theatre. Held together by some excellent performances and enchanting staging, the potential of this production is undercut by a slow pace, unnecessary length and some random directorial decisions with sound and lighting. This does leave the viewer wondering: of all the plays about and by women the Almeida could have chosen for a two-month run, why another one by a dead, white man?
The Almeida itself is a good fit for this show, boasting an inviting atmosphere and affordable prices, albeit a distinctly “Islington” crowd. An intimate, exposed-brick auditorium compliments the sparse, domestic Chekhovian set which grows emptier across three hours to leave only a piano: un-played by the talented Three Sisters, who fail to fulfil their potential in provincial Russia and long to return to Moscow. Different levels are used to great effect if a little ham-fistedly and at the expense of half the audience’s view. This is one clear drawback of the venue: uncomfortable seating and restricted views make engaging in such a long, pedestrian play quite challenging.
Each of the lead performances is wonderfully subtle and naturalistic, even when they stray into Chekhov’s overwrought existentialism. Olivier award-winner Patsy Ferran brings a natural presence to the stage as eldest sister Olga but is equally met by Ria Zmitrowicz who gives an infantile Irina, and Pearl Chanda, who plays the charming but temperamental Masha. Lois Chimimba (Natasha) and Freddie Meredith (Andrei) are also names to watch, particularly the latter who gives a palpably vulnerable performance as Natasha’s stifled, anxiety-ridden husband – trapped in a loveless marriage to his adulterous wife and longing to put his knowledge to better use than the local council.
Lynn’s adapted script has received mixed reviews, quite understandably, because it remains too long and for the most part, is devoid of the tension necessary to give this play its flavour. Of course, she has worked with the ramblings and random bursts of philosophising Chekhov has given her, and to do so is commendable in itself. Frecknall has generally worked well with this script, giving us a version of Three Sisters which, in the trend of recent theatre, is without a clear sense of time period. This is emphasised by plain costume, mid-20th century props like the radio, and a quite random outburst of Nico’s 1967 song These Days. Whilst this is a lovely choice, it feels completely misplaced, and is characteristic of an overall stiltedness in scene transitions which left the audience unsure of when to clap, leave or breathe a sigh of relief.
On the whole, the play had a great deal of potential; moments of humour and tenderness were particularly well-executed and proved that Chekhov’s piece can remain relevant in 2019 – particularly its musings on gender, technology and happiness which seem eerily close to home. This production is worth a watch if you’re local, want to see some excellent upcoming performances or really, really like Chekhov. That being said, I’m not sure it warrants yet another adaptation of a somewhat overrated play, and leaves the Almeida feeling a bit stale.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Three Sisters is at Almeida Theatre from 8th April until 25th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.