Three Sisters

Bleak, existential, and as dry as the wintry air outside, Adrian Osmond’s adaption of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, performed by the learning disabled based Lung Ha Theatre Company, is as heart-warming as it is compelling.

The bittersweet tone is set early. An inspired collaboration with the Folk Music department of the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts (Helsinki, Finland) gifts the audience with melancholic traditional Russian folk music throughout. An elegant, understated set with richly designed costumes, transports the audience to a small Russian town at the turn of the twentieth century.

The three Prozorov sisters, Olga, Irina, and Masha, and their brother Andrei, dream daily of returning to their former home and exciting lives in Moscow. The arrival of the Imperial Army provides some distraction from their dreary provincial lives, and a love affair for Masha, but nothing suffices to assuage their boredom and longing for the capital. Then tragedy strikes. Andrei marries Natasha, a provincial girl who mortgages the house, crushing the girls’ dreams of escape.

Introspective and philosophical, Three Sisters asks its audience to consider the meaning and value of life, work, progress, family, and legacy throughout. The references to time are too numerous to count; the characters and audience are constantly aware of its passing and, with it, the narrowing of possibilities. Written over a hundred years ago, its themes are still profoundly relevant today.

What is remarkable about this play is how the cast convey its bleak, gruelling, existential themes with an excellent, whimsical humour that perfectly captures its absurdism. The comic relief is persistent and particularly wonderful from Gavin Yule and John Edgar, who play Fyodor Ilyich Kulygin and Ivan Romanovich Chebutykin. Both make absolutely hilarious entrances throughout. Scott Davidson, playing Captain Solyony, delivers every line with delightful comedic timing, which serves to lighten even the most miserable scenes. 

Emma McCaffrey gives a particularly strong performance as Olga Prozorova, the eldest of the three sisters. She is energetic and subtle, and expertly leads the audience from her first line to her utterly harrowing performance in the final scene. Nicola Tuxworth is also terrific as the desperately bored and unhappily married middle sister, Masha.

The greatest moment has to be the raucous dinner party scene, which follows a hysterical entrance made by Teri Rob, playing the nasty Natasha Ivanovna, in a truly enormous wig. It contains all of the bittersweet and dynamic elements of the play and is a joy to watch.

This production is a real achievement. Osmond and the delightful cast provide a refreshing take that gets to the heart of the existential drama and reminds audiences that theatre is for all.

Three Sisters

Run ended 15th-17th March

Traverse Theatre

Image: Pete Dibdin

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