Three Sisters Theatre Royal Nottingham 11 June


Picture from Eastwood Advertiser

I took advantage of my train journey to Nottingham for this show by Cheek by Jowl’s Russian company to re-read the play.  I wasn’t entirely convinced.  It seemed to be too long for what Chekhov had to say.    I wasn’t convinced by this show either.  In typical CbJ style, we had a bare stage with some furniture and props scattered about.  This became especially problematic in the third act, which revolves around people from the dangerous and dirty outside world of the fire intruding into the room that Olga and Irina now share.  Irina also has to remark that she has forgotten the Italian for window, or for that ceiling, which left her gesturing helplessly into emptiness.

At the interval, the lady sitting next to me said that the characters running round the stage to get to their positions was a bit odd, and the fact that all the military were in the same uniforms was confusing.  She was quite right, though I think the first of these is just the way CbJ do things.

I imagine the basic idea of this production was that these people aren’t really grown-up, as was evidenced by the dolls’ house that was prominently displayed on various parts of the stage in each act.  I thought the part of Natalya Ivanovna the lower-middle-class sister-in-law was dreadfully overplayed (by Ekaterina Sibiryakova).  That’s lower-middle-class, not peasant-from-farmyard.  In fact, there was quite a lot of overplaying– the essence here is the sudden changes of mood, not the underlining of them with screaming and shouting.  At one stage we were being beaten into the famous laughter-through-tears with Masha hysterical at the departure of Vershinin, her husband in the false whiskers he had confiscated at school, and a gunshot off signalling the death of Irina’s fiance.  NOW cry NOW laugh NOW cry again.  It should be more subtle than that.

Irina Grineva as Masha (from CbJ site)

The cast didn’t necessarily have a great afternoon in front of a non-Russian-speaking audience.  Mikhail Zhigalov (Chebutykin), Alexander Feklistov (Vershinin) and Evgenia Dmitrieva (Olga) all fluffed some lines, and  some other lines were just inaudible.  Irina Grineva (Masha) came off best, as the only character inhabiting the adult world of competing demands and not in the end retreating into childish fantasy.

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