Three Sisters

Anton Chekhov in a version by Christopher Hampton
Lyric, Hammersmith
(2010)

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Filter, who have created this modernised version of Chekhov's classic of yearning and unrequited love, made a tremendous impression with their inimitable interpretation of Twelfth Night.

This time, the formula fails to capture the spirit of the original, as the creative team try to do Chekhov in the manner of Shameless.

In fact until a moving dénouement, the production, directed by Sean Holmes with the company, seems more suited to television than the stage, with expressive acting but mixed messages not always clarified.

Where Louis Malle and Andre Gregory's Vanya on 42nd Street used a rehearsal motif to add a dimension to that play, this production, using modern dress and hidden microphones, as well as onstage lighting boards and technicians, has a tendency to muddy the plot as it tries to reconcile ancient with modern.

Claire Dunne (Irish accented unlike her sisters) plays the baby of the family with enthusiasm and versatility. Irina shows as much spirit at the start as her married sister Romola Garay's Masha demonstrates ennui. The latter reaction is understandable when we are introduced to her husband, Paul Brennen as Kulygin, a schoolteacher filled with bonhomie but 30 years her senior.

The eldest sister, Poppy Miller's Olga, is as self-effacing and martyred as their sister-in-law is awful. Gemma Saunders in the part of Natasha is irritating from the first moment and the only surprise is that, when there is a murder in town, she is not the victim.

Among a host of raggedly bearded men, Natasha's husband and the sisters' brother, Ferdy Roberts' Andrei is a hairy slob with a talent for nothing but frittering away the family fortune, while Vershinin (John Lightbody) is a large imposing man, who helps ignite a desperate Masha, at least briefly.

In a supporting role, Nigel Cooke enjoys the chance to play the lovelorn, drunken Doctor Chebutykin, a man who has never recovered from an unrequited passion for the girls' late mother.

It is at the end, that we see how all of the old guard have lost not only their birthrights but hope, symbolised by a never to be enjoyed future in far-off Moscow, the nouveau riche led by Natasha ready to take over their estates and, before too long, their country.

Do not try this experience if you are a Chekhov purist. If, on the other hand, you do not know the playwright but like classics revved up, it may have greater appeal.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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