Czekhov à la Mode


A truly impressive production of Three Sisters by Anton Czechov at the Young Vic theatre uses a new translation by David Pountney and brings this story of provincial ennui and frustration to a vivid life. Initially the 3 sisters appear quite separate from each other, united only in their longing for returning again to Moscow from where many years ago their military father moved them.Now he is dead, the spinster teacher Olya has burnout, her rather glamorous-looking and chain-smoking sister Masha  lives in unhappy marriage with the boisterous teacher Kulyigin, whose steady proclamations of his happiness and love for his wife annoy her (and the audience), while the youngest sister Irina longs for love, but does not love the enamoured baron, who wants to take her away. This household is supplemented by an old nanny and a young servant, plus brotherAndrey, the brilliant scientist who after his father’s death has fallen for the proletarian and whoring Natasha and has gained masses of weight. And then there is the ubiquitous scrounger, Dr Chebutykin who”has forgotten everything about medicine” and just lives in the memory of his unrequited (?) love for the sisters’ long-dead mother.

All changes with the arrival of the dashing (married) Colonel Vershinin who falls in love with Masha and starts an affair with her, noticed, but not acknowledged by her husband. Slowly, but surely, brother Andrei who has become city councillor and given up his wish to become a professor in Moscow and his wife (and babies) take over the house, mortgage it and settle into provincial life; the sisters engage in their daily lives and keep dreaming of Moscow. The baron’s friend is hopelessly and jealously in love with Irina, and in the end challenges the baron to a duel, over a pub brawl. Before, Irina has consented to marry him, but told him that she can never love him. The duel ends as expected (the baron dead), the army and the colonel leave the town (and thus Masha), Olya has become headteacher (against her professed will), the doctor has caused a woman’s death during a village fire by not knowing how to help her, the teacher keeps professing his happiness and love for Masha and Irina goes to the next village to teach – and hopelessness falls into every nook of the stage. Moscow is further away than ever.

The play takes place on a raised platform (composed of tables), the personages appear from a large mound of earth in the back of the stage, maybe signifying country versus Moscow? In the last act, when everything falls apart, the stage (tables) are successively taken away until only the earth mound remains. Frustration instead of boredom sets this production from more traditional ones apart. Great acting by all, much applause.

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