THEATRE REVIEW: Three Sisters

Young Vic

29 Oct 2012

Three Sisters trailer (The Young Vic/Dusthouse)
 
This is Chekhov as you have never seen it before. Raucous, dirty, vodka-fuelled, surprising, coarse, funny, uninhibited, destructive – and magnificent. Benedict Andrews’ modern adaptation of the script tears down our expectations whilst breathing new life into a classic tale of love, sisterhood, despair and hope. Under Johannes Schutz’s design, the simple grey stage of the Young Vic is coldly lit and bare, a large mound of earth the only scenery. As characters make their entrances, the full space is utilised, with unusually large areas of empty stage between them: it is fragmented, jarring almost, to see a cast working together fluidly when physically so separate. The titular three sisters are introduced to us, and from her first appearance it is clear who will steal the show: Vanessa Kirby is simply superb as Masha. Her movement around the stage is so instinctive, so fluid, that not the slightest pretence is needed – she is not playing Masha, but has become her, utterly embodying the part in every toss of her head and every drawl. It is her spirit that seems to guide the production, with its irresistible mix of glamour, thrill, heartache and wretchedness. Beside this, Olga (Mariah Gale) risks appearing a little dull and anonymous, but some skilful and balanced direction by Andrews ensures her more understated performance is not overwhelmed. Completing the trio is Gala Gordon as unintentional heart-breaker Irina, whose transformation from sweet youth to hardened bitterness and despair is truly touching and at times difficult to watch in its soul-baring pain.
Although the girls are given some simple period dresses, there is nothing much conventional about this production. As the vodka flows, the expletives rack up and before you know it the cast are dancing on the tables and belting out Smells Like Teen Spirit. It’s a brave move by Andrews and it works perfectly. Chekhov and grunge – who would’ve thought such a bizarre marriage could be so fruitful? The scene is funny, no doubt – and indeed there is much humour across the board here, from the brash, Aussie Natasha (Emily Barclay) to the inebriated Chebutykin (the splendid Michael Feast); from the brow-beaten Andrey (a tracksuit-wearing Danny Kirrane) to the loveable, sensitive Tuzenbach (Sam Troughton). Yet it is also thrilling in its raucous energy and verve, and in its contrast to the beautiful moments of stillness elsewhere in the play in which laughter and pathos are woven together in excruciating rawness. It is also demonstrative of the importance of sound as well as visuals, as peace is repeatedly and jarringly interrupted by singing, shouting, or by the uncomfortably loud bell which cuts through the calm, jangling painfully, in the second half.
There is a wonderful sense of synergy to the piece, as one or two individual performances which alone may be quite ordinary – William Houston’s rather smug Vishinin, for example – bounce off others around them and become a seemingly vital element in the ensemble. Fragmentation is certainly a powerful theme as the sisters are gradually abandoned by all, and the slow, deliberate removal of the stage itself, piece-by-piece, is a stroke of brilliance; yet the force of togetherness inherent in the final tableau of Masha, Olga and Irina embodies the powerful bonds of raw humanity in this piece.This bolshy yet nuanced production packs a real punch, with rare intensity and focus in its wildness. It is a tribute to the show’s ability to hold an audience that I could have happily sat through it all without an interval, even on some of the most uncomfortable theatre seats in London. Its breathless energy, delightfully messy stage and wonderful performances, led by Vanessa Kirby, will not be forgotten any time soon – in short, a triumph.
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