Three Sisters review: An exquisite take on Chekhov’s classic ★★★★★

Patsy Ferran stars in this new version, which beautifully conveys the sense of hopelessness and harsh reality of the sister's lives

Screen Shot 2019-04-18 at 10.53.10

Rebecca Frecknall’s Summer and Smoke was last year’s surprise smash-hit play and recently picked up Olivier Awards for best revival, with the heart-wrenchingly good Patsy Ferran winning best actress.

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Since you can’t have too much of a good thing, the director and lead actress have reunited to bring us an exquisite version of Chekhov’s classic about disillusioned youth, with an updated script from Cordelia Lynn.

Ferran plays Olga, the eldest of the sisters, who after the death of their father has become a matriarchal figure to the younger Masha and Irina, and their brother, Andrey. Life in their provincial Russian town feels increasingly hopeless, and they yearn to return to the culture and sophistication of Moscow, where they believe their best lives await them.

It’s only the company of the more erudite military officers, stationed nearby, that gives them any escape from their humdrum existence, and an opportunity to explore their purpose and where they fit into the world.

The stark stage, with its bare bulbs and wooden chairs, perfectly captures the emptiness that the youngsters feel in their lives. There’s a palpable sense that they are struggling to fill the void both in them and around them, if only by giving voice to their idealistic hopes and ideas. The heart of the play, perfectly captured with some captivating performances, lays bare a harsh reality many people feel – the poignant gap between heartfelt desires and everyday life. 

Frecknall and Lynn have done a great job making the production feel vital and relevant. Not only does the theme of disaffected youth have a timely resonance – the press night taking place on a day when large numbers of young protesters have taken to the streets of cities across the world – but it emphasises other contemporary tensions, such as between rural and urban communities, and those of class and education.

There isn’t a weak performance among the superb ensemble cast, but if any deserve special mention it’s Ferran and her stage sisters, Pearl Chanda (Masha) and Ria Zmitrowicz (Irina), who show a brilliant empathy for the titular characters.

The next awards season may be a long way off, but don’t be surprised if this fabulous production is occupying many of the shortlists when they do roll around.

Nick Wells 

The Almeida

Running until 1 June 2019

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