'Three Sisters' review or 'I don't quite see the family resemblance.'

Three Sisters, Chehkov/Tracy Letts 
Union Theatre, 5th January 2016
Written for Time Out 

Tracy Letts is not a huge fan of Chekhov. This adaptation of 'Three Sisters' - receiving its UK premiere - is Letts’s attempt to right a few ‘wrongs’. He has gotten rid of the fussier contextual stuff and, supposedly, stripped the play down to an excoriating family drama (think a Russian ‘August: Osage County’). But where there should be passion, fire, and sheer bloody will of character, there is only a tame flicker of emotion. This is a disappointing adaptation, which nods at Chekhov’s three sisters – but doesn’t really seem to know them.
The context has been kept ‘fluid’, which really means it hasn’t changed much at all. Phil Wilmott’s production is still firmly located in 20th century Russia – only Olga, Masha, Irina and their entourage wear contemporary costumes and play with the occasional anachronistic prop. The set is sparse and timeless (no designer is listed) and the swirling activity revolves around a gloomily lit piano and little else. It doesn’t feel like Russia, it doesn’t really feel like anywhere.
None of this would matter a jot if the relationships clanged and clashed – but they don’t. Ivy Corbin’s gothic Masha is suitably sullen, Celine Abrahams’ Olga is weary and steady and Molly Crookes’ sparkly-eyed Irina talks breathlessly of Moscow, as if it’s a lover she longs to return to. They’re fine individual studies but the family portrait doesn’t stick.
Ashley Russell’s Vershinin never quite seduces nor appals; we don’t fall for him and neither does Masha. Steven Rodgers’ Kulygin is perfectly pleasant but that final scene, when Kulygin kills Masha with kindness, is painless. The only relationship that rattles is that between Natasha (Francesca Burgoyne) – who sweeps through the house like a bitter wind - and the sisters’ hapless brother Andrey (Benjamin Chandler). They are the future writ large – and it is a sad and frightening prospect.


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