Three Sisters, Lyric, Hammersmith, London
A thoroughly modern Chekhov
Wednesday 27 January 2010
Even the finest productions of Chekhov in this country can sometimes make you feel that the English are treating him as an honorary English gentleman and misrepresenting his world as a pre-revolutionary sepia-tinted Edwardian ideal, in that platonic summer-before-the-war that has everything to do with us and little to do with him.
So it's immensely refreshing that the excellent Filter collective have here collaborated with Sean Holmes, the new artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith, on a production of Three Sisters that scraps all the pseudo-refinement, the costume-drama safety net and the microclimate of understated realism. But don't think that they have put on a manual on deconstruction where the mood-swinging bipolar spirit of the play should be or that they have replaced with a set of crude larks the enormous subtlety with which the play orchestrates its shifting conflicted atmospheres and its sense of conversation as the criss-crossing of competing monologues.
So: the clothes are contemporary/ timeless; the casting is more what you would get for a play at the Royal Court (and there are some terrific performances but not of the laughter-through-a-mist-of-tears, fluting kind that fool the givers of awards). The production deploys a range of fluid performance styles that give a Chekhovian twist to situations that might have strayed here from genres as they have developed since his day. The invented bit where the drunken doctor Chebutykin (excellent Nigel Cooke) casually pees in the wardrobe during the fire-emergency scene goes to the core of the negligence with which this past-it medic inflicts his half-thinking emotional havoc. And the fact that the determinedly "happy" schoolteacher Kulygin (spot-on Paul Brennen) happens to be secreted in the wardrobe during the pissing episode renders the moment all the more neo-Chekhovian as we see him wince and try to make himself invisible. It's true to his character that he feels embarrassed not for Chebutykin and his boorishness but because he does not want Chebutykin to be embarrassed by noticing his presence.
The production uses space and sound with a sometimes Expressionist expressiveness. When Romola Garai's sexily anguished Masha announces, with brave defiance, that she is in love with John Lightbody's ecstatically frustrated Vershinin, Olga (Poppy Miller) stalks off, so as not to hear her, into the vast wastes of the stripped-back Lyric stage that surround the central huddle of furniture that creates the scene. Amplified noises such as of a boiling kettle that sounds like a bosh shot at the noise of the Second Coming drive probes into the psychological underlay of each particular situation. Sometimes you feel that it is like watching a collage of "quotes" and then it all coheres again.
Sometimes you have the impression that the first performers of the piece have been speeded through, by a kind of time-lapse photography, into becoming their contemporary equivalents. Then it so sweeps you into a fresh sense of the world of Chekhov, that questions of technique seem by the by. Warmly recommended.
To 20 February (0871 22 117 29) then on tour ( Filtertheatre.com)
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 2 Perez Hilton apologises for Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
- 5 Jennifer Lawrence 'naked sex video' will be leaked threatens 4Chan celebrity photo hacker
Scottish independence referendum: Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit to play in support of Yes campaign
Unseen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory chapter deemed 'too subversive' released
Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Gregg Wallace joins Mark Wright, Pixie Lott and Judy Murray in line-up
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Al Pacino's The Humbling and Manglehorn, film reviews
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court