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Three Sisters: Almeida Theatre

May 15, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 27th April 2019).

Three women in a Russian military town, longing for the Moscow they left a decade ago. Rebecca Frecknall’s incredibly spare production strips Chekhov back to the absolute bone.

In this, Frecknall is aided by a clear version by Cordelia Lynn, working from the translation by Helen Rappaport (good programme article on the subject, incidentally). No heavy language, in fact, the first half in particular plays like a superior soap-opera – even though all the memorable portentous speeches are present as expected.

As Olga, Patsy Ferran is the marquee name, and her performance is the usual Ferran energy but tempered to suit the worn duty of her bereaved character.

Sisters Masha (Pearl Chanda) and Irina (Ria Zmitrowicz) complete the title trio. Well-chosen to illustrate the contrasting paths chosen, each has engaging character quirks. Chandra adopts a sophisticated London drawl. Even if it becomes a little “Snagglepuss” as her character grows older and jaded, it’s interesting. Zmitrowicz uses bursts of alternating energy and depression to good effect, her final despair moving and believable.

Brother Andrey (Freddie Meredith) is impressive – his scene with future wife Natasha (Lois Chimimba) a metre from the Monkey’s nose a lovely study in two actors trusting each other. As the play continues, both prove sound as he becomes selfish and she struggles with reality.

In the wider cast, Alexander (Peter McDonald) is a charming officer, his first scene a model of how to make an impact without needing to steal from those around him. Ivan (Alan Williams) makes a drunken doctor’s giving up on life a lesson to the rest of us, Anfisa (Annie Firbank) a sad figure ill-treated but with immaculate timing and a study in movement. Notes too for Ferapont (Eric MacLennan) and Nicolay (Shubham Saraf) for optimism.

The funeral opening is outstanding, and much of the staging – placing characters on a shelf above and to the right of the action is original and compelling. The final scene is perhaps a slight indulgence, as is an odd use of photography but neither are fatal to the work.

Sadly, the major flaw is the playing speed. Had the entire cast matched Ferran’s pace, there would have been fewer opportunities for the action to feel too slow. As it is, there is a meandering that doesn’t justify attention for the entire almost three hours. Still, the concept and acting are almost enough to cover the issue, and this is a production worth seeing.

3 stars.

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