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Thursday 25 April 2019

Three Sisters, Play by Anton Chekhov, directed by Rebecca Frecknall, Almeida Theatre, London 8.5* out of 10

Chekhov aficionados may not see the need for modernization in Cordelia Lynn's adaptation of Three Sisters, but many ordinary mortals among the theatre-going public will enjoy this production of the Russian author's great play. All acting performances are of a high standard, Patsy Ferran as Olga is magnetic, Pearl Chanda as Masha seductive. The Almeida remains a great place to see accessible high-quality theatre. 

Russia at the turn of the 20th century. After the death of their father, a General in the Russian army, the Prozorov sisters Olga (Patsy Ferran), Masha (Pearl Chanda) and Irina (Ria Zmitrowicz) live in a remote small garrison town with their brother Andrey (Freddy Meredith). They live a comfortable life and the social and intellectual stimulation, such as there is, is provided by the stationed officers. Olga is a spinster of a pragmatic nature. Masha is a sassy lady who married her first love the fatherly local Latin teacher Kulygin (Elliot Levey) and now regrets it; Irina the youngest dreams of romantic love and city life in Moscow. And then there is their young brother Andrei, who seems suited for an academic career, but falls in love below his station with a local town girl Natasha (Lois Chimimba). She starts out shy and uncertain but will prove more than a handful for the Prozorov clan. A posse of officers from the local garrison show interest in the ladies of the Prozorov-household and engage in romantically-charged intellectual and philosophical banter with them. What is man’s and woman’s purpose on earth? How does one get to fulfil one’s potential? (The renowned Austrian psychiatrist and bestselling author of Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, would have a field day with Chekhov’s protagonists.) Big dreams clash with the limitations and flaws of the different characters and with unfortunate chains of events to ultimately end in more and less dramatic disappointments. If this summary puts you off, don’t let it: Anton Chekhov makes it very compelling.

The Almeida production of Chekhov’s classic is based on a new adaptation by Cordelia Lynn. The outcome may not please Chekhov connoisseurs, but ordinary mortals will find it accessible, moving and entertaining. And even Chekhov-aficionados should enjoy this production where music (Angus MacRae), choreography including a  lively start into the action, direction (Rebecca Frecknall), and acting performances are in good balance and hold the audience’s attention from beginning to end. Peter MacDonald as Masha’s lover Vershinin and Eliott Levey as her husband Kulygin stand out among the male actors. Patsy Ferran is magnetic as Olga, Pearl Chanda seductive as Masha both when she leaves her hat on and when she takes it off. Almeida Theatre productions are usually of a high standard and this production of Three Sisters lived up to my high expectations. Recommended.

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