3 November 2012

Three Sisters at the Young Vic

Chekhov seems to be back in fashion at the moment, and that suits me.

Three Sisters is one of his four last plays which are the four that he is best known for. The Young Vic's performance had got good reviews but the run clashed with my late Summer holiday so I ignored it for a while. Then the run was extended and I took the plunge. Even then I was not able to get there until the last day.

I like the pre-theatre area at the Young Vic though you usually have to fight to get a seat. I managed to find one upstairs. Unfortunately they do not sell bean coffee from the upstairs bar so I had to have a beer.

Taking my seat in the front row it was apparent that this was going to be a modern production. The square performance are was filled with grey tables that made a raised stage. There were a couple of props and that was it.

Gradually we are introduced to the cast and the three sisters took up positions around the edge of the stage, i.e. close to the audience. Again the modernity was blatant. The language of the translation was contemporary and reasonably fresh and, sitting almost in my lap, Masha sang Bowie's Golden Years to herself.

Olga, the eldest sister, is a teacher and a spinster by accident. Masha married young and regrets it. Irina wants to escape the rural home and return to Moscow where she had lived as a small girl.

Add to the mix some local soldiers, a doctor who has forgotten everything that he ever knew about doctoring, and ageing housekeeper, a geek brother and the bibmo who becomes his wife, and a few other local characters. It is a large and diverse cast.

The play is about an ending, as common theme with Chekhov. The ending here is the departure of the army that had been stationed there for some years.

Their departure takes the town back to rural solitude and has a direct impact on each of the sisters, and it is not a happy one.

It was vintage Chekhov.

This production was superb in all respect. The acting made the most of the diverse characters bringing out their differences while keeping them believable. We feel deeply for some, dislike others and find others amusing.

The staging was aggressively modern in a good way. This is not a safe production that lets the established script play out on its own. It adds energy and friction and, like a grain of sand in an oyster, it produces a pearl.

One scene summed it up. There is a party and somebody sits down at the piano to play a folk song. That turned out to be Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit that everybody sung along to with gusto pausing only to drink copiously. The atmosphere that created was exactly right.

After the ice cream break the plot themes developed in a downward spiral. There is a fire, a shooting, an affair, a large gambling debt and a broken clock.

The decay is emphasised as the tables that made up the raised stage are slowly removed one at a time. This, and all the other carefully planned parts of the staging and direction, made this a stunning production. It was easy to see why the run was extended and why it was sold out.

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