Review: Three Sisters, Lyric Hammersmith

“One day you’ll be so bored that you’ll read it”

According to the programme, Christopher Hampton’s version of Three Sisters at the Lyric Hammersmith directed by Sean Holmes and the Filter theatre company, is here to raise “the audience’s otherwise sluggard pulses in a revivifying revival”: what more introduction could we possibly need?!

Three Sisters opens with Irina Prozorova’s name-day celebration, in the provincial Russian town where their late military father had been stationed. Irina and her sisters Olga and Masha make half-hearted attempts to put up with life in their adopted home, but cannot stop longing for their birth town Moscow. We then follow the sisters and a group of acquaintances over a 3 year period as the sisters learn the hard lessons of life.

Filter are known for their use of sound and in parts of the first half, this approach was quite effective. I loved the use of microphones dotted around the stage to allow us to eavesdrop on whispered conversations in dark corners and permitted full use of the stripped-back stage. I was less sure about the use of an amplified boiling kettle to represent a passing storm, and quite why a violin case had to be used to pop a balloon to imitate a gunshot (and unsuccessfully I might ungentlemanly add, the actor had to just slam the case in the end), I do not know. The second half had much less of this, an imbalance which ended up giving the impression that they could have gone quite a bit further with this sonic creativity to be honest.

Perhaps the best known name in the cast is Romola Garai, and she is very good as the unhappily married Masha, but Poppy Miller as Olga and Clare Dunne as Irina match her nicely and they form a strong triumvirate at the centre of this play. But although they are titular, there are many other characters with as much import in this play and they were supported well by John Lightbody’s dashing and poetic Vershinin, Jonathan Broadbent’s foppish Baron and Paul Brennen’s bookish and really quite amusing Kulygin. Ferdy Roberts and Gemma Saunders also did well as the Prozorov brother and sister-in-law taking over the house and the lives of the sisters.

My heart sank when I saw the running time of 3 hours as we entered the auditorium (it actually came in at a shade under) and the bare staging that evokes the NT’s recent Mother Courage, but to its credit, I never felt it drag at any point. It is engaging enough and well-acted but not one that particularly moved me or my sluggard pulse, a comment on the play more than the production I feel.

Running time: 2 hours 55, with one interval
Photo: Helen Maybanks

Programme cost: £3

6 thoughts on “Review: Three Sisters, Lyric Hammersmith

  1. Absolute rubbish, they've ripped the heart and soul out of this play. A poor attempt at ripping of Mother Courage as you say and pointlessly done.

  2. I have to agree too. Chekhov can be one of the most powerful and moving writers, and this production, I felt, mocked him. It has a smug, knowing air, for very little work, from some of the actors too (notably Vershinin and the Baron we felt), and we left disappointed (but stayed til the end unlike the couple to our right who didn't return after the interval on Wednesday).

  3. It was a curious one for sure. Looking back on it, I felt no emotional contact with what was happening on stage, but even so I wasn't bored.
    I'm still waiting for a Chekhov experience that completely blows me away though, I've not had that yet (although I did enjoy The Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic last year)

  4. It did nothing for me either, I'm afraid. And the couple next to me left in the interval too. Oh dear. I struggled on but was really quite relieved when it finished. Go and see Midsummer at the Soho Theatre instead – its ace!

  5. I disagree. It's the first time I've seen a Chekhov that makes sense. I thought it was brilliant. Very sad, and very true.

  6. It was a total massacre. Chekov would be turning in his grave. I cannot begin to write what was wrong with this play because I couldn't possibly know where to begin. I am infact going to use this as a case study for how classic example of how NOT to adapt Chekov!!

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