Three Sisters (2 stars)

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, run ended

The fascinating thing about Chekov is the way in which, as his work crosses cultural and national boundaries it alters from comedy to tragedy to wistful elegy, yet still contrives to fascinate. The several different versions of The Seagull brought to the Festival by the EIF alone over the years has taught us that the traditional British Chekov, with its languid young men in cricket whites and dreamy girls in summer frocks is but one, limited version of the great realist’s work.
One thing, though, that seems common to them all is the study of repression that they represent. This perhaps is the major omission in Krystian Lupa’s production for the American Repertory Company. For here, the story of Olga, Masha and Irina, their longing for the Moscow of their past, and their demise into fiscal and emotional penury at the hands of their brother, his spouse and several army officers has a tone of outright hysteria from the start. One feels for characters who are unable to express their longings and frustrations, but it’s more difficult to empathise with folk who have too many outs for their repressions, from shrieking and throwing themselves on the floor to outright sexual games. So it is that by the time the crucial fire occurs at the up of the second half, we barely notice a change in tone to panic.
The improvisations on Chekov’s script, where Olga describes Natasha as “that emerald cunt”, and the physical business, such as when Masha gives Chebutykin the wide-on in front of her husband are also unhelpful in setting the tone. While Lupa’s set, suggestive of Edward Gordon Craig, has a certain resonance, his seemingly random bongo-drum playing from a box certainly doesn’t, and there were some points where one sensed a certain envy in the audience of the man behind me, who snored loudly (and given the tickets, expensively) through the second act. A shame, though, for the actors, who seemed of too good a quality to be put through this, and did work tirelessly to salvage some comedy from the evening.

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