Venue: The Genesian Theatre (Sydney NSW), Oct 16 – Sep 14, 2015
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (translated by Brian Friel)
Director: Timothy Bennett
Cast: Priscilla Bonham-Carter, Martin Bell, Nick Carter, Ted Crosby, Rob Drew, Susan Farrell, Kathryn Hutchins, Lana Kershaw, Elizabeth MacGregor, Tom Marwick, Tom Massey, James Moir, Dominique Nesbitt, Martin Searles, Darien Williams
In Chekhov’s Three Sisters, time moves past its characters to show us the stasis and passivity of their pessimistic lives. The play runs for almost three hours, but few things change for the Prozorovas over the course of its 5-year plot. There is always a sense that things are better elsewhere, but the women never venture very far away. Whether it is circumstance that keeps them bound to their family home, or their lack of resolve that prevents them from finding greener pastures, is ambiguous. Brian Friel’s 1981 translation is a vibrant one, with a subtle humour accompanying the despondency of its scenarios, but Chekhov’s incessant lamenting is certainly left unscathed.
This staging, directed by Timothy Bennett, attempts to be a faithful rendering of the piece. Design aspects are effectively executed, with attention spent on ensuring a period depiction that appears accurate. Correspondingly, performances seem to resist any modernisation. The cast’s preference for a stylistically nostalgic tone is charming, but can also feel stilted and staid. Finding enough depth to express the complexities of Chekhov’s writing is challenging, and on this occasion, the actors’ emphasis on establishing accuracy in affectation and manner, come in sacrifice of character studies that portray psychological and behavioural authenticity. The production provides an impressionistic account of events and personalities, but we desire something more substantial beyond its pleasant surface.
At the play’s end, the sisters once again talk about the future. It is a mixture of hope and hopelessness, and as we ponder their story from a distance of over a century, we wonder if their longing for better days has come to pass. It is important that we understand the shackles that keep the women bound in the play, and the dysfunctions in societies that stand in the way of progress. What prevents the Three Sisters from finding happiness is open to interpretation, and like the introspection required for our own lives to improve, an exercise that will prove to be rewarding.