Pros: An emotional performance from Holliday Grainger, and a believable bond between the three female leads as siblings, captivates the audience’s attention and holds it for the most part.
Cons: Removing the drama from Russia to a British Embassy somewhere hot and dusty is something that I found unbelievable. Especially given as the girls, who are so desperate to leave and go home to London, could not just book a flight and move there.
Following her modernised version of The Seagull, Anya Reiss’ new version of Anthon Chekhov’s Three Sisters is currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse. With help from a strong cast including Holliday Grainger, Olivia Hallinan and Emily Taaffe who play Irina, Olga and Masha respectively. The play is set in a dusty, hot climate where the three sisters live together with their brother in a house that was once owned by their father. It is not clear where the action takes place but with British Troops posted nearby and other off hand comments, it seems to be the Middle East. While in the Chekhov’s original text the sisters are dreaming of a life in Moscow, Reiss’ has shifted their focus to London – with younger sister Irina particularly pining for the capital.
The sister’s brother Andrey (Thom Tuck) and wife Natasha (a hilarious Emily Dobbs) share the space, much to the girls irritation – particularly when it is revealed that Andrey is addicted to online gambling and is starting to accrue debts which could cause them financial difficulty. The audience can clearly see that the sister’s world is monotonous and the frustration of ex-pat life is made obvious, particularly through the two younger siblings who crave excitement and adventure.
The ease with which Reiss translates the play into the modern era, clearly indicates Chekhov’s timelessness and his ability to write characters and scenes which still fit in with a more modern audience. The three leads make for believable siblings, though it is Grainger’s emotionally charged and devastating scenes that make her stand out from her peers. There are some great comedic moments, not least when the sisters and their brother bring out a karaoke machine and start singing and dancing to Common People by Pulp during their Christmas celebrations. I loved Reiss’ version of The Seagull, but didn’t feel that she managed to maintain the same level of excellence with this production. Perhaps it is because I have studied the play in great detail and have seen several better theatrical adaptations, but this version made the plight and desperation of the three sisters difficult to believe and therefore sympathise with.
Director: Russell Bolam
Author: Anton Chekhov (translated by Anya Reiss).
Producer: Jagged Fence Productions and Danielle Tarento.
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking Link: southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
Booking Until: May 3rd.