Review: Three Sisters, New Diorama

“Happiness comes from desire, not fulfilment”

Though it was not particularly to my taste, Benedict Andrew’s radical take on Three Sisters for the Young Vic was a big success last year and so it is a brave company that takes Chekhov’s play on again so soon, not least in opening with a directorial choice which references it so strongly. It is the second play to open in The Faction’s 2013 rep season at the New Diorama after Schiller’s Fiesco, but where that play made imaginative use of the ensemble and sparkled with interesting direction, there’s not quite the same level of creativity at work here in Three Sisters, as this is altogether a straighter reading of a text.

Ranjit Bolt has adapted the text quite considerably and whilst some may baulk at the contemporised truncations, I rather liked the colloquial ease with which it flowed through the trials and tribulations of the siblings trapped in their Russian backwater, determined but seemingly unable to prevent life from passing them by. Director Mark Leipacher keeps things relatively simple, utilising a set of kitchen chairs in a multitude of ways to suggest the rooms of the house that variously keeps them prisoner, offers a blanket that maintains their declining privilege and yet also forms a kind of refuge from the realities of the word.

Kate Sawyer, Derval Mellett and Elizabeth Twells make an appealing set of sisters: Mellett’s wry humour as the acerbic Masha impressing and Twells essays the diminshing exuberance of Irina in a most thoughtful manner. But whilst the acting is never less than strong, the relative narrowness of the age band of the company results in a slight mismatch with the world-weary male characters, none of whom really seem old enough to have lived the hard lives against which they rail.

And because of the large cast of characters, Leipacher has less opportunity to play with the ensemble, to create the moments of visual grace that one is coming to expect from The Faction. Only with the dining room scene with its single file of chairs comes close to really capturing the imagination with its flair. Elsewhere it is Martin Dewar’s lighting that does a lot of evocative work in delineating the shadowy corners and open windows in and through which all the hopes and dreams live and die. So yes, a solidly strong effort with a smidgen of disappointment for me but in the best possible way, as it shows how high my expectations for The Faction have become in a short space of time. 

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2, covers the whole rep season
Booking until 23rd February

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