Review: Three Sisters, White Bear Theatre

“You know what London pubs are like – you don’t know anyone and no-one knows your name”

Looking back over the blog, it turns out I’ve seen Chekhov’s Three Sisters four times in recent years and all of them have been a modern updating of some sort and now I’ve seen FiasCo Theatre’s version at a spruced up White Bear Theatre in Kennington, I’m on five for five. This uncredited adaptation sees the sisters moved to present day Britain, moved by their father from their beloved London to an unspecified place in the north (with a train station 12 miles away) and a military garrison nearby.

The Prozorovs are rechristened as the Earnshaws and in a nifty bit of renaming that nods to one of Chehov’s possible inspirations, Olga, Masha and Irina have become Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Ed Sheeran and Bastille may blast over the stereo but otherwise, the modern references are just lightly sprinkled throughout in just the right quantity – it is a pretty respectful, condensed take on the story which reiterates the crushing paralysis of inaction no matter the time or place.

Annemarie Highmore’s direction captures much of the emotional charge in this household and the sense it is tragically misplaced – her Emily and Nigel Fyfe’s tantalising Woodgrove (Vershinin) share something special in the illicit midst of their melancholy, Camilla Harding’s pragmatic, old-before-her-time schoolteacher Charlotte and Emily’s husband Brown (Kulygin), a studious Thom Petty, connect beautifully as the ones that should have perhaps gotten married instead.

And as the soldiers that battle Rachael Maclean’s Anne’s disinterest for her affections, Luke Jasztal’s soulfully handsome Tusenbach and Anneliese Friend’s gun-happy Yank Salter (Solyony in a fascinating gender switch) add more conflicted emotion into the pot – it’s quite the heady mix when it works. As with any updating, the need to create a social milieu that can explain the sisters’ emotional (and therefore physical) paralysis is a big challenge and one that is perhaps missing here, the power that Diana Vucane’s spiky Natasha wields as the ineffectual Andrew’s husband not quite sticking with the shift to modern society.

A couple of the supporting performances may struggle too, but in a household that has three types of gin in its drinks cabinet, it’s not really too much of a problem. And in the trio of Earnshaws, this Three Sisters has an intoxicating quality of its own, not least in the beautifully rippling echoes of the final scene.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 26th October

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