Monday, 28 April 2014

Three Sisters - Chekhov at the Southwark Playhouse

This was my first introduction to Chekhov, as performed live at the Southwark Playhouse in its new location. This version of Three Sisters has been adapted by Anya Reiss, and was directed by Russell Bolam.  I haven't seen other versions, so I can only tell you my response to this play.

The empty stage
Image Credit: SM Jenkin

I loved it. I loved the characters, each drawn out with care and without judgement. Chekhov is a master of subtext and the actors did their best to explore and manipulate the meaning implied in the text. So much is left unspoken by the characters, all flawed in their own ways, but all showing an admirable stoicism even in the face of heartbreak and misunderstanding.

Is happiness a choice?
The questions I took away from the play: What does it mean to live, happily? Are we allowed to be happy now, how can we find happiness or manufacture it? There was a lot of talk about hope, and this resonated with me. Does work make you happy and what do we mean by "proper work"- can we do this when there are no jobs around?

I have discussed this with other people, who raised the point that the sisters, and really everyone else, would have been happy if only they had moved on. Why didn't they just leave? Is it really the practical issue of getting a plane ticket that stops someone from leaving an unhappy situation, or something else? Inertia or fear can be awesome barriers, as well as the misplaced hope that somehow things will get better by themselves and without any effort.

Sounds grim, doesn't it? Chekhov's stories are some of the funniest I have ever read, and that humour is in evidence, from Andrei's  karaoke version of "common people" to.... well, you've just got to see it.

One of the reasons that tipped me into seeing the play was the inclusion of Paul McGann in the cast - I ended up sitting next to another Who-vian who had travelled all the way from Swansea to see the play. And he was very good in it, as were all of the cast. But would somebody please tell him to stop turning his back on the audience - it really got on my nerves. Sort it out, McGann!