Three Sisters at Vaudeville Theatre
Lev Dodin brings Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg to London with his production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. The night’s audience includes a lot of Russians, surely a good sign. There is also Sir Ian McKellen, surely another auspicious indication of the quality of theatre to be on display here.
Alexander Borovsky’s staging is simple: a wooden façade of a country house, which inches closer and closer to the front of the stage as the play progresses. This changes the way the light hits it: when brother Andrey and Natasha return to the house as husband and wife, the building moves forward to become foreboding with shadows. As time goes on, the characters have less and less space, signifying their lives becoming smaller and their circumstances more oppressive. It’s a simple trick but a neat metaphor.
The piece is performed in the original Russian. While that demands more from the non-Russian speakers – both watching the action and reading the subtitles is slightly more work than it is at the cinema, as to be expected – once you get used to that it is rewarding to hear such an emphatic and musical language. It is easier to understand the characters and the writing in the language in which the play was written. A Russian audience member felt the translation did not convey all of the nuances, that some things were lost, but that is perhaps inevitable.
The eponymous three sisters are Olga (stoic Irina Tychinina), Masha (Ksenia Rappoport) and Irina (Ekaterina Tarasova). Olga is a schoolmistress, very much the matron of the family, Masha is an intriguing mix of pensive and flighty and Irina we meet at 20, obsessed with the idea of work and the meaning it gives to life. All three performers are excellent, exuding charisma, love for each other and restless yearning.
The women are obsessed with the idea of returning to Moscow but instead they languish in their country home, entertaining the soldiers stationed there, along with Masha’s teacher husband, an army doctor who was in love with their late mother, and their brother and his wife.
Like life, there is a mixture of pathos and absurdity, optimism and pessimism, idealistic passion and disillusionment. Four years after we first meet her, Irina finds that working is not all it’s cracked up to be and acquiesces to marrying the Baron, a man she does not love. This is not to say that the play is depressing, for there is a lot of humour in it, especially with the men vying for beautiful Irina’s affections and when they take too much brandy.
The first act has a more meditative pace, while the second brings in more action to the denouement. The cast uses the whole of the theatre’s space for the action that is off stage, fully immersing the audience. The performers are all charismatic and passionate, and the direction creates striking tableaux throughout as the characters pick their paths through relationships and life, sometimes dancing, sometimes reflecting. Like life, solemn moments can result in songs and dancing breaking out and vice versa. The characters are richly drawn and Three Sisters is a deeply rewarding theatre experience.
Photo: Courtesy of Maly Drama Theatre
Three Sisters is at Vaudeville Theatre from 19th until 29th June 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.