Anton Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’ is a musing of lives segregated from the parameters of modern society – a provincial town many miles away from Moscow. Yet in Anya Reiss’ script, it is set in a today’s Middle East. The use of headscarves is our only clue yet even without a specified country, the suffering and ennui on the Southwark Playhouse’s stage instill the necessary symptomatic ingredients for portraying a jaded ex-pat household thanks to its director, Russell Bolam.
The three siblings; Olga (Olivia Hallinan,) Irina (Holliday Grainger,) Masha (Emily Taaffe) encompass a collection of distinct personalities that like a puzzle are disjointed and tattered if not put together. Act 1 sees them at their most hopeful. Olga plays a strong motherly figure that tries to assert order as she does in her full-time teaching role, whilst Irina is the young, dashing and charming face of the house that longs to return back to London. Masha, on the other hand, is temperamental. One moment she is indifferent, stubborn, aggressive and then, notably in Act 2, distraught in love and tears – something other than her sisters. She is a complicated character with much to regret including marrying her local and faithful Kulygin convincingly played by Tom Ross-Williams.
From the spotlight, one can tell these attractive actresses enjoy playing their inexperienced characters, particularly Taaffe who has a field day with bi-polar and frustrated Masha. She has a clandestine affair with Paul McGann’s character, Vershinin or ‘the sulky soldier’, which she likes to call him. He has a somewhat philosophical presence about him, but not entirely. “The world is full of beauty and intelligence” and it’s these words that grab Masha, but unfortunately he cannot predict the future, which turns out much grimmer.
The stern faced, foolishly in love, aspiring professor and brother, Andrey (Thom Tuck) marries socially awkward Natasha (Emily Dobbs) who dupes him and has an unsolicited affair. From the beginning, chavy Natasha is insecure and un-classy yet Dobbs adapts her as the play goes on as a manipulative new member of their home requesting Olga to move out of her room and that their drunkard party go elsewhere. They carelessly sing Pulp’s ‘Common People’ karaoke style until the early hours, which, alludes to their hope of returning to London away from the reclusive life.
Joe Sims’ ‘Solyony’ is an ignorant irritation represented as an army captain who often uses Tusenbach (David Carlyle) as his punch bag. Carlyle’s Scottish accent enhances a grounded and harmless Tusenbach that pines for Irina. And Michael Garner’s portrayal of an apathetic and wise, Chebutykin has much profundity and likeability as he says, ‘what the hell does it matter?’
Throughout the play, the audience accumulates a sense of malaise and nihilism for these pitiful characters, particularly Irina, who may never be liberated. Chekhov’s startling story that Reiss re-invigorates sees twelve character’s scorn in a secluded modern day space. Bolam expresses how insightful it is to witness drama and anguish take hold of people with little breathing room.
Ends May 3rd