Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 28 – Aug 13, 2016
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (translated by Karen Vickery)
Director: Kevin Jackson
Cast: Tom Campbell, Paige Gardiner, John Grinston, Noel Hodda, Zoe Jensen, Graeme McRae, Michael McStay, Kenneth Moraleda, Lyn Pierse, Lauren Richardson, Shane Russon, Justin Stewart-Cotta, Dorje Swallow, Janine Watson
Image by Marnya Rothe
There are few absolutes in life, but change is certain. The world transforms from moment to moment, and how each person experiences the flux of being is where we discover meaning. In Chekhov’s Three Sisters, characters talk about progress, expressing hopes for the future, but are unable to propel themselves into action. Passivity is the enemy, and they succumb to its control. Years pass by and each day in their provincial estate becomes increasingly forlorn and depressed. There is something about the comfort of wealth that prevents individuals from reaching the best of their potentials; in the absence of urgency, one is left frozen, unable to attain greatness that can only result from courage and risk.
The production is both courageous and risky. Under Kevin Jackson’s direction, actors make bold decisions with how their stories are told. They commit to a highly animated style of presentation, uncommon in our day and age, that delivers wonderfully amusing results, but can at times be jarring to our benumbed bourgeois sensibilities. Whether or not we find interpretations believable in psychological terms, Jackson brings a level of clarity to the ideas being discussed that allows the hundred (and some) year-old Three Sisters to speak with an unexpected relevancy.
The director’s love of acting is evident in the amount of detail he encourages from the cast, but at over three hours long, the play is too much of a good thing. Nonetheless, the delightful ensemble of twenty diverse actors (resplendent in costumes by Emma Vine) is teeming with vigour, and evenly impressive. The most memorable scene belongs to Irina, Masha and Olga in Act III when they confide in each other, sharing feelings about sad events, but guffawing at themselves. The contradictions they perform are not only effective in reinforcing Chekhov’s commentary on aristocracy, but a sophisticated device that marries irony with theatricality, for a complex representation of humanity at a moment of despondence.
The tragedy of not being able to realise one’s dreams is made more pitiful when there is nothing ostensibly in the way. The women and men of Three Sisters have no one to blame but themselves for their disappointments, and we react with laughter and with sadness, a bittersweet acknowledgement of their predicament that we readily relate to. In the play, happiness is a concept detached from realities, and the concept becomes increasingly abstract with age. We end the show with women on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but the conclusion is a buoyant one for it provides answers to burning personal questions, along with an optimistic perspective of what can often be a very dark existence.