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...Sisters

Anton Chekhov, adapted by Chris Goode
Co-production with Headlong Theatre
Gate Theatre, Notting Hill
(2008)

Publicity photo

Chekhov's wistful sorority are proving an inspiration to contemporary playwrights. This is the second reappraisal of Three Sisters in 2008, following their appearance on Liverpool's Hope Street at Hampstead.

Their story of yearning for love, money and Moscow is clearly timeless and here Chris Goode has transferred the basic material from the Russian hinterland at the turn of the last century to some parallel universe or dreamworld, still at the same period but using updated language.

Anyone who has not seen Chekhov's masterpiece will probably be none the wiser at the end of this 85 minute prolonged metatheatrical game. They will though have witnessed an unusual and very stimulating evening.

The setting, designed by Naomi Dawson, is an attractive conservatory garlanded with hanging baskets and at the end, for no obvious reason, a chubby black and white rabbit, with symbolic framed butterflies extending into the audience and even the foyer.

Six performers swap parts and gender around with abandon, at one point Catherine Dyson playing all three sisters within ten minutes.

Even this is not enough for Goode, who also directs. The arrival of the would-be sister-in-law, the shrill grasping Natasha, heralds a period where several parts are each played by pairs of actors.

There is even the suggestion that certain sections are allocated to actors at random: for example Gemma Brockis apparently struck lucky with one speech that became hers on the spin of a bottle.

The overall mood is one of ennui, conveyed almost throughout, which can be a bit of a downer, as the happier scenes and hope of the original are generally subsumed by deliberately underplayed performances.

There is no chance to rest, as the four acts are compressed into around twenty minutes each. While Chekhov's plot disappears almost without trace at times, the experience, complete with eclectic soundscape, is generally pleasurable.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher