20 January 2017

An excellent Three Sisters at The Union Theatre

I have seen Chekhov's Three sisters five times in recent years and all of the performances were good or better. This was possibly the best.

I go to all the Chekov that I can and The Union Theatre is one of my favourite theatres so this was unmissable. Stick a £15 price tag on the ticket and it would have been a crime.

It was good to get back to The Union Theatre again after a gap of a few months. That was nothing personal, just a lot of competition from other theatres for my evenings. I know what I am doing at The Union and that meant being there by 6:30pm when the box office opened to collect my ticket, popping along to Culture Grub for a Sichuan style curry and then back to the cafe to take into the first half of the performance.

I was first in to the theatre (after careful positioning by the door) and was pleased to see the stage set more or less in the round. It had been set traditionally on my previous visit to the new venue. I chose a seat in the middle of the row on the far side.

The stage was set as a living room with drinks out ready for a celebration, it was the 20th birthday of the youngest sister, Irina. Apart from the piano there were a couple of seats and that was about it. I like productions that use props sparingly so this was a good sign.

The cast were introduced to us gradually and carefully with each new arrival being name-checked for our benefit. Each character looked right to me and that continued throughout the play and the casting proved to be the play's main strength and that is why I thought so highly of the production.

The three sisters' lives were changed by two arrivals, the new army commander, Vershinin (Ashley Russell), and their brother's girlfriend Natasha (Francesca Burgoyne), and they were my two stars of the evening in what was a strong cast overall with no weak points.

The production played on the strength of having the large cast and there was often more than one thing happening at once. This was particularly true when relationships were forming between two of the sisters and two of the army men.

Every version of Three Sisters that I have seen has been a little different but without the chance to study the scripts it is difficult for me to say what and where the differences were. This was certainly a shorter version than some others and seemed to be faster paced because of that. In this edit the main theme was Vershinin refrain, "Happiness is not for us", though there was still space for Itina and Tusenbach to debate the virtue of work and to cosy up to each other a little.

I knew the story and yet I was still captivated by it. It was a rich story with significant threads for each of the sisters and their brother plus quite a few dramatic things happening elsewhere.

Above all this was an entertaining and rewarding production; entertaining because of the story and the characters, and rewarding because of the human themes covered.

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