Three Sisters at the Almeida: This most Chekhovian of Chekhov’s plays flatters to deceive
After last year’s superlative Summer and Smoke, the pairing of director Rebecca Frecknall and young star Patsy Ferran is an irresistible proposition. This time they combine to drag Chekhov’s fin de siècle play Three Sisters into an unspecified time and space somewhere between pre-revolution Russia and present-day King’s Road.
But despite another fitful, engaging performance from Ferran (in a disappointingly sidelined role), and equally adept shifts by Pearl Chanda and Ria Zmitrowicz as the remaining sisters Masha and Olga, this play lacks the dynamism and easy poetry of Frecknall’s award-winning take on Tennessee Williams.
The sisters – the youngest in particular – speak with an infuriating Sloanie drawl, their rising inflections straight from Made in Chelsea, with the language as well as the accents switched to modern English. The goal is presumably accessibility, but it’s a strange choice given the timelessness of the material.
After all, Three Sisters is the most Chekhovian of Chekhov’s plays. It’s all unrequited love and unhappy marriages and quashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams. It portrays a world in which people yearn for more but inevitably end up with less, where intelligence counts for little and the human condition will eventually grind you down. At least, as the philosophical army officer Alexander notes, “Everything we think is serious or meaningful or important will be forgotten.”
If follows three sisters and their maudlin brother in the wake of the death of their last remaining parent. Precocious and highly-educated, they yearn to leave their dull, sleepy village and return to the mythical Moscow of their childhood, where they might find lights and life and love.
The sisters are the star attraction of this hermetically sealed little world, with menfolk prostrating themselves before them, declaring their undying love. But the three are, in the words of elder sister Masha, “bored, bored, bored”. They just can’t find it within themselves to love these silly little men.
The production takes place upon a stripped back stage, with props restricted to a dozen or so chairs and an unplayed violin hanging on the wall (Chekhov wouldn’t be impressed). It's an engaging enough production, wearing its three hours lightly, but I hoped for more from this talented ensemble.