Three Sisters

October 22, 2014 | By | Reply More

✭✭✭✭✩     Emotional realism

King’s Theatre: Tues 21 – Sat 25 Oct 2014

John Byrne’s adaptation of Three Sisters at the King’s is poignant, funny, tragic and hugely satisfying.

Jessica Hardwick and Martin McCormick. Photo: John Johnston

Jessica Hardwick and Martin McCormick. Photo: John Johnston

Anton Chekhov’s original, which dealt with the end of the way of life of a privileged section of Russian society, has been updated in the Tron Theatre Glasgow’s production to 1960s Scotland. The Prozorov sisters Olya, Masha and Irina are now the Penhaligons: Olive, Maddy and Renee. They and brother Archie are living in Dunoon, where their late father was employed at the nearby naval base.

The original play’s wistful longing for Moscow is replaced by a desire to return to London. This gives rise to some undercurrents of relations between Scotland and England, notably in how Archie’s wife Natasha (played by a suitably monstrous Louise McCarthy) attempts to make her speech more ‘English’ as she exercises her control over the household. These touches never overwhelm the updating, which is wholly successful, being recognisably Scottish while also achieving a timeless, slightly otherworldly feel.

Muireann Kelly’s Olive is torn between a yearning for a better life and a sense of duty to others – not least her younger sisters. Maddy (Sally Reid) feels trapped in a loveless marriage and looks for solace in naval officer McShane. Jessica Hardwick’s Renee combines childish glee and adult responsibility and is prepared to settle for marriage to Fairbairn, a man she respects but does not love.

Sylvester McCoy is magnificent

All three manage to convey the conflicts, dreams and disappointments of the sisters beautifully, as well as achieving an entirely believable family dynamic.

The key to the success of their performances is an elegantly poised combination of humour and tragedy that is the key to Chekhov. Byrne’s adaptation helps greatly in this regard, with comic flourishes that enhance the text.

Jessica Hardwick Sylvester McCoy Euan Donald. Photo: John Johnston

Jessica Hardwick, Sylvester McCoy and Euan Donald. Photo: John Johnston

The combination of comedy and tragedy is crystallised in Dr McGillivery, the alcoholic ex-navy doctor who nursed an unrequited passion for the sisters’ mother. Sylvester McCoy is magnificent in the role, being genuinely funny but also conveying real pathos.

Throughout, the spectre of failure and humiliation lurks behind the comedy. The suicide attempts of McShane’s offstage wife are treated as the subject of humour, while Jonathan Watson’s Archie is a pathetic, ineffectual figure whose characterisation is tinged with indignity and deep shame.

Andy Clark mixes dutiful uprightness with melancholy as McShane, while Ewan Donald’s decent, unfulfilled Fairbairn and Martin McCormick’s uncomfortable, aggressive Maloney are highly successful characterisations. Similarly, Stephen Clyde’s portrayal of Maddy’s husband, the pompous dominie McCool, manages to make the audience laugh at him while still evoking a deep sympathy.

Andy Arnold’s direction achieves a pace that is stately without ever being slow, with the effective tableau-like parades that accompany the scene changes being representative of this. Byrne and Charlotte Lane’s set design, hinting at realism but not slavishly following it, chimes cleverly with the atmosphere.

There are real, complex emotions on stage, portrayed effectively and sympathetically, in a way that is never easy but is always involving and ultimately uplifting.

Running time 2 hours 45 mins including interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 21 – Saturday 25 October 2014
Evenings 7:30pm; Matinees Wed and Sat 2:30pm
Tickets and further details: www.edtheatres.com/threesisters

Sally Reid, Jonathan Watson, Sylvester McCoy, Andy Clark-Photo: John Johnston

Sally Reid, Jonathan Watson, Sylvester McCoy and Andy Clark. Photo: John Johnston

ENDS

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