16 October 2014

Trimmed but neat Three Sisters at the White Bear Theatre

This was my first visit to the White Bear Theatre in Kennington and my third time of seeing Three Sisters in the last two years. So I knew what to expect in some areas and had some surprises in others.

White Bear Theatre was conveniently close to Kennington Station in a part of London that I had bussed through several times but had never visited before. I found it a strange place and the best evidence for that was that the best option that I had for pre-theatre food was a prepacked sandwich from Costcutter (another first for me) which I ate on a dark bench in Kennington Park.

The pub was nice enough but it did not do food. It did do a nice pint of Young's Ordinary at the ridiculously low price of £3.05, I was paying £3.60 in Kingston the night before and thought that was reasonable. I celebrated by having a few through the evening, helped by the theatre's policy of allowing drinks in.

The theatre was "L" shaped with two rows of seats in the "L" and the stage in the rectangle formed by those two side. I was prompt enough to get a seat towards the middle of the front-row of the long side. I did not count the seats but I guess that there were around forty and they all looked to be taken.

At £14 the ticket price was ridiculously low too.

The first things I noticed was that we were in a British territory and not a Russian one and that we were in current times not the 19th century. This was the same transposition that the Southwark Theatre had gone for.

The biggest change took a while to dawn on me, this version was abridged. The story rattled along faster than I was used to and some characters were missing, notably the family maid who linked the two generations in the original story.

That was not a problem, I just tried to forget that this was Chekhov's Three Sisters and just watched the play on its own merits. And it had lots of merits.

Despite the cuts, many of the original themes remained with the three sisters and their brother going through some ups and downs, mostly downs, as they were buffeted by events mostly beyond their control.

The acting was much better than it has any right to be in a venue this small and that was a big factor in making the story engaging and believable. It was quite a large cast too as even cut to the core Three Sisters has nine significant roles. They all did well and the two that most caught my attention most were Annemarie Highmore as Emily/Masha and Nigel Fyfe as her older married lover Alexander.

As with the original, this Three Sisters ended with all three of them confronting significant set-backs (if you can call a death and a departure merely set-backs) and resolving to face the future positively. It's almost a happy ending.

This production of Three Sisters wrung all the emotion from the main themes in the original to make a dramatic and intense drama that thrilled a very happy audience of seasoned theatre goers.

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