Three SistersAfter hearing great things about Declan Donnellan’s production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters I was surprised to see that the QPAC Playhouse was not even half full for the Thursday evening showing. However, most of the audience members seemed to be Russian speakers and their delight at seeing this classic performed in the mother tongue was evident from the warm reception with which Three Sisters was received.

For those without a grasp of Russian subtitles are provided on large plasma screens to the left and right of the stage. At first this was very distracting and sitting through a subtitled version of such a lengthy work might explain the empty seats but after a while I gave up reading them and just gave myself over this wonderful production.

Three Sisters traces the intimate tragedies of sisters Olga, Masha, Irina and their brother Andrei. Trapped in torpid isolation in the Russian countryside, the family members spend their days dreaming of better ones that may come.

Andrei marries beneath him to a woman who does not understand him. Masha, married young to the local school teacher yearns for a dissolute Colonel whose tenuous connections to the fabled and storied Moscow of her dreams renders him glamorous and desirable. Olga, bored by her life as a school teacher is deeply unhappy, while youngest sister Irina soon finds crushing disappointment and heartbreak with the local soldiers.

The ensemble cast are totally flawless and it is impossible to single out one actor for especial praise. What they all bring to Chekhov’s finely nuanced work is authenticity. And it’s not just that the play is performed in Russian. The authenticity stems from the frustrated energy, the hungry discontent that emerges in every gesture and every word.

The set and costumes by Nick Ormerod are simple and ravishing. In a few elegant lines Ormerod manages to recreate a vanished world in all its sad, decaying glory. A forest of ghostly white chairs stands sentinel before two great banners showing the provincial house split in two, ever divided, never united. I was so engrossed by the action that it wasn’t until the play was almost over that I noticed the dollhouse, an eerie symbol of small town discontent.

After being totally swept away by the production it nearly killed the experience for me to see a couple of the actors (in costume) having a very public cigarette during the interval. It may sound like a trivial complaint but the success of a play like Three Sisters relies heavily on an absolutely faithful reconstruction of time and place and it took some time to reenter that world during the second half.

Apart from this criticism Three Sisters is a marvelous production – elegant, spirited and deeply moving. It’s just a great shame that Brisbane didn’t come out in greater numbers for this once-in-a-lifetime theatre experience.

Three Sisters
By Anton Chekhov

Part of the 2008 Brisbane Festival 2008

Venue: Playhouse
Tue, 29 July (7.30pm)
Wed, 30 July (7.30pm)
Thu, 31 July (7.30pm)
Fri, 1 August (7.30pm)
Sat, 2 August (1.30pm + 7.30pm)
Sun, 3 August (6.00pm)
Duration: 180 minutes (with interval)
Tickets: A Reserve $60, B Reserve $50, Groups $45, Schools $20
Bookings: Qtix on 136 246 or | Booking fees apply

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