Having found innovative new ways to serve up Brecht and Shakespeare to modern-day theatre goers, it stands to reason you’d cast around for another old guard figure to re-invent. So now, the formidable partnership of Filter theatre company and director Sean Holmes has taken on the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov and his tragi-comic Three Sisters.
‘After The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Twelfth Night, we realised we’d begun to find a way of approaching classics that was still true to the spirit of the play, but presented in a way that was different or unexpected,’ says Holmes. ‘And Chekhov seemed the next step. He’s an extraordinary writer, and Three Sisters is an amazing play. Plus the way Filter work, with sound and music integral to the performance, really suits Chekhov as he was obsessed with sound.’
Sometimes witty, often poignant, Three Sisters is a fascinating study in dissatisfaction and the quest for happiness – something perennially out of reach for the eponymous siblings. Originally written in 1900, numerous playwrights have translated Chekhov’s work over the years, but it was Christopher Hampton’s 2004 version that appealed to Holmes.
‘What’s great about Christopher’s work is it’s very simple and straightforward,’ says Holmes. ‘Because it would have felt odd for us to do a production that was experimental, for want of a better word, and use a translation that was doing the same thing. We wanted a version that was very true to Chekhov, so we could then take it in different directions.’
Neither Hampton nor Filter and Holmes have tampered massively with the location or setting – just played around with it a little. The presence of an antique water-heating samovar on stage still sets the play in late 19th century Russia, yet it’s joined by an electric guitar and costumes hailing from a hundred years ago to present day.
‘I think sometimes locating a show very specifically in its time can slightly constipate the thinking of everybody involved in putting it on,’ says Holmes. ‘But here there’s a freedom and attack in the acting which I’m very pleased with, that came from just saying everything is up for grabs.’
TraverseTheatre, Edinburgh, Wed 24–Sat 27 Mar