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Review: Three Sisters, at Almeida Theatre

18 April, 2019 — By Sipora Levy

Pearl Chanda, Ria Zmitrowicz, Shubham Saraf and Lois Chimimba in Three Sisters. Photo: Marc Brenner

THE greatest plays are those that can be endlessly re-staged and re-invented to shine a light on current times and illuminate our common humanity.

Chekhov’s Three Sisters has such potential. Its arrival at the Almeida – in a version headed by the Olivier Award-winning team for Summer and Smoke, with Patsy Ferran as Olga, the oldest sister, and Rebecca Frecknall, directing – has therefore been highly anticipated. The text has been adapted by Royal Court playwright Cordelia Lynn. With these credentials, I was expecting a fresh and exciting evening, but in this respect it was disappointing.

Following the death of their parents, Olga, Masha (Pearl Chanda) and Irina (Ria Zmitrowicz) are forced to leave Moscow and return to a small provincial town. They are joined by other members of the household, including their brother Andrey (Freddie Meredith), his ambitious new wife Natasha (Lois Chimimba), Masha’s husband Fyodor (Elliot Levey) and old Nanny (Annie Firbank). There are other men who visit, providing either a link with their past, like Chebutykin, a drunken doctor, or a possible romantic future, like Alexander Vershinin, the dashing Lieutenant-Colonel played by Peter McDonald, who Masha misguidedly falls for.

This being Chekhov, there is much opportunity for unrequited love and frustrated ambitions. It is not only the siblings who are reluctant to grow up and take responsibility for their lives.

The acting is excellent throughout, and in particular the rivalry and affection between the sisters and their brother is effectively drawn out. However, the production falls between two stools. Bringing in some modern touches with projected photographs and jarring music falls flat, and the first half in particular is hampered by some awkward action involving chairs and a spinning top. I would have welcomed some pruning of the text, as the evening is also too long at three hours.

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