Theatre; CURTAIN CALLS

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The Independent Culture
It's probably apocryphal, but there's a delightful story - put about, I believe, by that font of theatrical larkiness, Judi Dench - concerning Chekhov's masterpiece of family fortunes, Three Sisters. During one matinee, around the beginning of Act Four, one elderly lady was heard to hiss to her companion, "I think they're sisters..."

I'm not quite sure what the collective noun for uncles is - a dithering? a generosity? a forgetfulness? - but there have been more Vanya variations of late than one thought possible. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Even a second-rate production reminds you of its genius and for proof, go out this minute and rent the video of Vanya on 42nd Street and watch Julianne Moore and Wallace Shawn simply glow.

The Cherry Orchard has been aired (or, rather, chopped down) recently - a mercurial Penelope Wilton mesmerised audiences as Mme Ranyevskaya for the RSC. But we've had to wait a while for Three Sisters. So three cheers for Dominic Dromgoole with his Oxford Stage Company production. His talented cast includes two of the nominees plus the winner of this year's Ian Charleson award for a young classical actor under 30: namely Kelly Reilly as Irina and Paul Hilton as Andrei. The winner? Claudie Blakley as Masha. Go revel.

Whitehall Theatre, London SW1 (0171-369 1735)

David Benedict

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