Three Sisters, Lyric Hammersmith, London
The Whisky Taster, Bush, London
I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother, Young Vic, London

With its trainers and electric kettle (what, no samovar?), a new take on Chekhov blows the dust from his anniversary. Elsewhere, an ad-man tastes colours, and a Palestinian drama proves enchanting

Since when did Chekhov's characters prefer an electric kettle to a samovar, wear trainers in conjunction with vintage military tailcoats, and speak intermittently into microphones? Well, conservative theatre-goers may blench, but it's no bad thing to see some alternative takes on the Russian's best plays as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Many of the more surprising aspects of this Lyric Hammersmith production of Three Sisters – using Christopher Hampton's trad English version, but staged by Sean Holmes with the experimental troupe Filter – are refreshing and amusing. That's particularly true of the sound design.

At Irina's name-day party, the two mercilessly teased sweethearts – the sisters' bookish brother, Andrei (Ferdy Roberts), and the petite-bourgeoise Natasha (Gemma Saunders) – bolt from the dining room. But Roberts doesn't deliver his breathless proposal of marriage to her downstage, seemingly out of the others' earshot. Instead, the couple are amplified from the wings, as if in some embarrassingly resounding hallway. And this grows painfully funny as the entire table of diners slowly turns to listen, with an invasiveness later reversed when Natasha domestically muscles in and elbows her sisters-in-law out of the family home, room by room.

It's also startlingly erotic when John Lightbody's feverishly charismatic Colonel Vershinin launches into his affair with Romola Garai's unhappy Masha, pinning her against the theatre's far wall, way upstage but next to a microphone stand, so his passionate whispering is surreally magnified.

Elsewhere, everyone sits around on a gloomy, desperately boring winter's night and the conversation dies for several minutes. Only the wind howls and rattles in the chimney like an omen of trouble brewing, until it seems we're expressionistically hearing everybody's simmering mental breakdowns or imminent revolutionary upheavals.

While Vershinin and others muse on how everything will be wonderfully different in the future, this production wryly acknowledges that people – oscillating between surging hope and disappointment – don't change that much. The melange of period and modern dress suggests their timelessness.

The set is, meanwhile, an enjoyable jumble: several battered pianos, an antique settee, lamps with bare bulbs, and the tech crew's sound desk on stage. It is shabby and bleak, surrounded by black space, yet somehow homely, too. It also looks much like a rehearsal room, an ironic allusion to the notion Vershinin likes to entertain: namely, that each of us can start our life afresh, the one we've led till now being merely a rough draft.

Unfortunately though, Holmes's production – rather too like a Chekhovian life – becomes sorely disappointing. In spite of some fine performances, including Poppy Miller's pent-up Olga, the acting is uneven and many of the cast go off the boil. Holmes doesn't quite follow through his microphones concept either. So by the end they seem merely a gimmick.

If Filter fall short of their promise, poor Barney gains only a Pyrrhic victory when he determines to make his life less colourful in The Whisky Taster, directed by James Grieve. The quiet, nice guy in James Graham's new office drama, set in a London ad agency, suffers from overwhelming synaesthesia.

It's a bit like being King Midas, only more exhaustingly varied. Everything Barney touches or tastes, smells, sees or hears is instantly overlaid with something else, because he is neurologically bombarded with additional sensory perceptions. If he hears the word "Monday", he tastes parma violets. When he sips a vodka – which he's trying to rebrand – he sees blue, silver and gold.

His wide-boy boss, Simon Merrells' mannered Malcolm, regards this as a gift to marketing, but Barney finds his condition painful and wants to suppress it, along with his unspoken love for his team-mate, Nicola. Samuel Barnett's quietly tender performance is lovely, but Lucy Osborne's stage design – lurid with flashing neon – is clumsy. One wonders why Barney is blind to the fact that Nicola, as played by Kate O'Flynn, is a charmless ladette? And then we have to suffer the arrival of the pseudo guru, John Stahl's slow-paced whisky taster who spouts enough sententious platitudes to drive anyone to drink. The playwright isn't without humour or an ear for dialogue, but his ideas need more time to mature.

Finally, there is a bewitching simplicity to the multi-layered storytelling in I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother, by writer-director Amir Nizar Zuabi. Presented by the Palestinian troupe ShiberHur at the Young Vic, and played out under a tarpaulin strung above pools of water, it tells the story of close-knit Palestinian villagers and their petty squabbles and romances. These are then engulfed by full-blown warfare as the British Mandate ends in 1948. Some of them just don't see it coming.

What's enchanting is the humour, warmth and passion of Zuabi's folk tale of two brothers, one an innocent simpleton. Though not all the actors cope with the bilingual Arabic-English script, there are haunting poetic images. People's older selves hover like pale ghosts and an old man – determined not to leave his fruit tree for his enemy – carries it, flowering, on his back.

'Three Sisters' (0871 221 1722) to 20 Feb; 'The Whisky Taster' (020-8743 5050) to 20 Feb; 'I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother' (020-7922 2922) to 19 Jan

Next Week:

Kate Bassett sees if Tamsin Oglesby's finger is on the pulse in her new NT play, 'Really Old, Like Forty Five', about state care for the elderly

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
News
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
News
Brooke Magnanti believes her reputation has been damaged by the claim
books
Arts and Entertainment
A large fire has broken out in London's historic Battersea Arts Centre
art
Arts and Entertainment
Orla Brady as Anne Meredith, MyAnna Buring as Elizabeth Quinn and Joanna Vanderham as Katherine McVitie in Banished
tvReview: Despite the gritty setting, this drama is as fluffy and soppy as a soap opera
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and co-director Richard Glatzer, standing, on the set during the filming of ‘Still Alice’ in New York
film
Arts and Entertainment
Great British Sewing Bee finalist Matt Chapple
tvReview: He wowed the judges with an avant garde dress
Arts and Entertainment
Driven to the edge: 'Top Gear' producer Oisin Tymon is said to have had a row with Clarkson
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nazi officer Matthias Schoenaerts embarks on an affair with married French woman Michelle Williams in 'Suite Francaise'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Prime movers: Caitriona Balfe (centre) and the cast of Outlander
TV
News
Feasting with panthers: Keynes
books
Arts and Entertainment
Strung out: Mumford & Sons
music
Arts and Entertainment
Avant-garde: Bjork
music
Arts and Entertainment
Despite a decade of reform, prosecutions and convictions of rape has remained consistently low
arts + entsAcademic and author Joanna Bourke in warning to arts world
Arts and Entertainment
Electro Velvet, made up of Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas, will represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss