Three Sisters, like all of Chekhov plays concentrate upon the boredom of provincial life, the claustrophobic relationships between friends and family, the yearning for something better and the fear to act upon one’s desires. There lies a dark bitter/sweetness of comic despair born out of a desolate fortitude.
The play begins with Irina celebrating her birthday; she is young and enthusiastic, full of youth’s idealism for a better tomorrow and greeting her future years with the open arms of gleeful optimism. Olga, the eldest sister worries of growing old as she sees her youth and vigour devoured by the growing demands being made upon her as the school teacher, but she still hopes for a better future, as does Andrei, the sisters only brother.
It is the despondent and bored Masha who no longer hopes for something more, who is the sad harbinger of what the future installs. Masha married her sweetheart Kulgyin, whom she once imagined to be the most educated and sophisticated man she had ever met, only to discover that he is prosaically boring. Irina’s youthful idealism and Olga and Andrei’s hopes once lived briefly in Masha’s heart before being crushed by life’s facileness.
Kristin Scott Thomas gives an outstanding performance as Masha. She instantly captures the boredom and discontent that entwines her character, which makes her distant and aloof. It is only with the arrival of Vershinin, whom she is to fall in love, that her eyes mellow and her face softens.
David Burke as Cherbutykin and Douglas Hodge as Andrei are the only actors, along with Kristin Scott Thomas who mature their characters. Burke’s Cherbutkyin (Doctor) brims with affectionate love for the three sisters but slowly suffocates in a gloomy alcoholic haze as he watches them drown in a sea of self-obsession. Hodge successfully captures the misfit Andrei, who initially finds some self-confidence through his love for Natasha, only to end up a cuckold husband stripped of ambition. As he pushes his child’s pram back and forth in the garden his very posture seethes with repressed resentment.
The two weaknesses in Michael Blakemore’s production are the characters Natasha (Susannah Wise) and Vershinin (Robert Bathurst). Wise’s Natasha looks strong enough to easily dominate the weak and ineffectual Andrei, but too crude and petulant to bully his sisters. Whilst Bathurst’s Vershinin looks dashing in his uniform, but sounds like a self-conceited windbag. When he complains of his wife “she’s poisoned herself again”, he comically sounds vexed that his plans for the evening have been interrupted. One feels that Masha must be extremely desperate to seek solace in his affections.
Christopher Hampton’s version has a smooth effortless flow that expresses the suppleness of the play’s intense emotions and Blakemore uses this to fully capture the solipsism and self-conceit of Chekhov’s characters. However, in doing so he fails to expose the sexual passion and love that each character is desperately seeking in order to escape their prison.
What other critics had to say.....
BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Blakemore’s revival is as careful, sensitive and unostentatious as Christopher Hampton’s translation." He goes on to say, "There isn’t a weak or ill-considered performance on view." JASON BEST for THE STAGE says, "Clear, supple and idiomatic." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Any production relies on the casting of the sisters; and here the prize performance is from Kristin Scott Thomas." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Even with some superb performances, the production is a bit of a let-down." He goes on to say, "A production that needs more fire." PATRICK MARMION for TIME OUT says, "A fine new version." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "A rapturous debut from the compelling Kristin Scott Thomas."
External links to full reviews from popular press