Monday, 22 September 2008

REVIEW: 'Three Sisters', Royal Exchange Theatre

Published: STUDENT DIRECT, 22nd September 2008 

The Royal Exchange’s production of Chekhov’s classic Three Sisters is absolutely stunning. Not for a long while have I seen a play so smooth and eloquently performed. The set was beautiful and simple, clear columns and shear curtains ensuring no view was blocked. The acting from all was worthy of Chekhov’s poetical language, wrought with emotion. The audience were literally forced into submission, the three hours passing unfelt, as Three Sisters harrowing and sorrowful tale unfolded.

Chekhov’s Three Sisters is a tale of hope and dreams dashed and unfulfilled, of lives disappointed and helpless to their fate. Each character is dissatisfied with his or her present, each longs for a past or future full of glory and happiness. Their lives are confined to a small provincial town in Russia, where the weather and landscape is harsh and unforgiving, society limited and dull, without any prospect of changing for the better.
Three Sisters is a play that portrays with delicate beauty the way humans cope with misfortune and despair – they see at all times ‘in the distance…a gleam of light’.

The sisters Irina, Masha and Olga yearn for Moscow, the place they feel is home, where their roots belong. Thoughts of Moscow are ‘a washed in sunshine’, warm in comparison to the cold wintry present. Vershinin dreams of a future ‘two hundred to three hundred years from now’, when life will be ‘unimaginably beautiful’. While Chebutykin consoles his painful life with the belief that he might not actually exist at all. None inhabit a place they truly call home, either in time or place. All they want is change, change reverting to memory or to the unknown. Anything other than the stagnant and trapped state of the current. Indeed it is not without meaning that the poem Masha repeats throughout begins ‘a far sea shore…’

The lack of movement within the plot (three years pass without change) allows the audience to scrutinise and understand the characters in raw truth. Chekhov portrays the everyday existence of his characters with honesty and humour like no other. None are idealised humans; all have their faults, their selfish wants – yet we come to admire them each for their continuance through individual trials. Even Andrey, when his life has diminished far below his aspirations finds it within him to think of a future where he ‘can see freedom’.

Most poignant in this play is the disharmony of the characters hopes and their reality. Even when a form of happiness seems to glisten within their reach it is dashed from then within an instant. Life is cruel in handing out exactly what is not wanted and thus most hard to bear. What is the respite from such an ‘intolerable life’? Love; what comfort is there? Only, as Irina concludes, ‘that we shall all be forgotten’. All that is to be done is ‘to live our own lives...for none knows anything’.

Thoroughly moving, utterly impressive and refined. One that cannot be missed.

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