Review: Three Sisters, Southwark Playhouse

“Everyone’s here from the UK but it’s always the Cotswolds or Scotland or something so nice to have an actual…we’re moving back there you see” 

What is it that draws writers to adaptation? Anya Reiss’ extraordinary debut of two cracking plays for the Royal Court has been followed by versions of 2 Chekhovs and Wedekind’s Spring Awakening for Headlong which is currently touring. The first Chekhov saw The Seagull transplanted to a modern day Isle of Man for the Southwark Playhouse and now for the same theatre, she has tackled Three Sisters which is located “near a British Embassy, overseas, now”.

Which is all very well but in a play that is predicated on the desire to return home, there appears to be no earthly reason why any of the Prozorova sisters – the modern women that they are here – can’t just book the next flight to the London they left just over a decade ago. Instead they languish in the non-specific country suggested to be somewhere we might have recently invaded, where their father served as a diplomat until his death, stuck because he sold their old family home.

But removing the play from its original setting means the social constrictions on women are no longer relevant and where Benedict Andrews cleverly used a metaphysical ambiguity to suggest how emotional paralysis trapped the women in his recent Young Vic production, by giving it so specific a modern context here, Reiss makes the rod for her own back. Servants are out of place, language feels old-fashioned, the realities of the connectedness of the modern world are just ignored. 

So Russell Bolam’s production can do little to really overcome these trials. His cast has been astutely selected – Holliday Grainger, Olivia Hallinan and Emily Taaffe are a fierce trio who gamely do the best they can, Thom Tuck as their brother and Emily Dobbs as the socially climbing wife whom they turn on with a vicious spike of karaoke are also both good. But they can never make the play seem essential, prove that the retelling actually offers up anything new  – as Chebutykin says right before the end, “it’s all the same”.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until 3rd May

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