The first of hopefully many entries describing my various frolicks in theatre-land, both home and abroad (by abroad, i namely mean my home county of Devonshire: fear not, having recently qualified for my Phd in Country Bumpkin i shall be able to provide adequate translation for the West End Trotters happily trotting around my virtual farm-yard of regional theatre critiques… that is, if i haven’t already perturbed said curious soles by practically comparing them to production-pondering-porkers…….)
Anywho, the review!
“Three Sisters” at the Lyric Hammersmith, was as metatheatrical an interpretation of a Chekhov script as one could imagine. The obvious placing of stage-hands and technical crew on stage, and minimal set-design contributed to an overall sense of ‘putting the audience in it’s place’: audience members became the modern beneficiaries, looking back on ancestral actions which ensured a profitable existence for their descendants: however, there were some elements of the show which did little to compliment Chekhov’s optimistic vision.
The audience were denied the means to contextualise the piece due to the jumbled time-line of costumes (ranging from 1920’s tailoring, through Russian military, to contemporary dress), props and musical accompaniment. This could lead one to theorise that the intention was to emphasise the variety in the past generations whom (according to Chekhov) contributed to our modern comforts. However, this idea of historical reflection was visually contradicted by the costume of ‘Irina’ (one of the ‘Three Sisters’) which remained contemporary throughout.
There were some excellent performances, adding vivacity to a very ‘wordy’ text, but despite the evident enthusiasm of the cast, there was a widespread lack of character development. Excluding the suitably ditsy and irritating ‘Natasha’, perfectly encapsulated by Gemma Saunders’, and the foolish but ultimately likeable ‘Andrew’, the majority of the characters were almost exactly the same at the conclusion of the play as they were at the beginning.*
Similarly, the live sound effects intended to punctuate the performers’ efforts was somewhat misguided: there was a lack of continuity between Acts I & II, and whilst some were complimentary to the action (such as the intimate, muffled whispering heard through a microphone) there were equally as many which were distracting, or in some cases just too loud. On one occasion, a great deal of dead-time was created on stage, presumably due to the cast waiting for the cued sound-effect (a boiling kettle): one could assume it’s purpose was to elevate a feeling of anticipation within the audience in preparation for a notable event to follow, but which ultimately never came. This leads one to question why it was necessary to include such a long and ultimately anti-climactic sound-effect, turning the anticipation evoked into a mere interruption.
Despite these failings, the performance as a whole was engaging with some charismatic performances, and leads one to anticipate a well-rounded production come press night, if the roles of both sound and context could be a little more coherently defined.
*Although one might very well argue that this was the intention of Chekhov himself, to show that the human condition ultimately doesn’t change, and that we are never satisfied with our lot in life, and therefore cannot develop due to an inherited lack of inner contentment.