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This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/three-sisters-wyndhams-theatre-london/

Part of a Chekhov double bill with Uncle Vanya, the Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky brought these two productions from Moscow’s Mossovet State Academic Theatre to Wyndham’s Theatre. Apart from the big name director, another draw is they feature Russian actors and are played in Russian with English surtitles as part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014.
Three sisters live in a house in the countryside yearning for a more exciting life. The eldest, Olga, is a bored school teacher on the constant lookout for love and companionship. Marsha married young but has since gotten bored with her married life while the youngest, Irina, dreams of moving to Moscow as the lack of suitors where she lives is giving her headaches. There is also the hedonistic brother, Andrei, soon to be married to Natalia whom the sisters consider common.

The main point to note about this production is the issue with the surtitles. There is a problem of synchronisation with the dialogue on stage which appears too often to ignore. Sometimes the speech on stage goes beyond the display and at times, the text will jump a few lines forward, too quickly for the audience to read. Thus, the action seems to stutter which is extremely disruptive. It is obviously not an issue for Russian speakers. For those who aren’t, one can argue the action can be enjoyed without studiously reading all the translation. Yet one cannot assume the audience will arrive with the full knowledge of the text. And for the completeness of the experience, the surtitles are an important aspect of the production and this technical problem has a significant effect.

Surtitles aside, this is a very competent production with superb acting, at least when one is not staring at the display of the text high above the stage. There is a camouflage of joviality that barely covers the sadness and tragedy bubbling underneath. The production captures the absurdity of the play, highlighted by the lighthearted recorded interview with the cast during some scene changes. The cheerful and pleasant music accompanying some scenes also softens the melodrama and presents it as a matter-of-fact story. The set is populated with functional and modest furniture and leaves just about enough room for the larger ensemble scenes. A movable platform splits the stage though the purpose of its mobility is not obvious. The bare backdrop only came to life in the last scene with a projected tree-lined avenue.

Olga is supposed to be twenty-eight in the text and here she is played delightfully over the top by the more mature Larisa Kuznetsova to emphasise her maternal role to her siblings. The director’s current wife Yulia Vysotskaya is Marsha, who is determined to follow her feelings. Galina Bob as the fragile Irina is rather endearing. Other roles include Alexey Grishin as the prattish Andrei and Marsha’s eager-to-please husband Kylygin played by Alexander Bobrovsky.

Despite the technicality of the play being in Russian, it is an accomplished and well-directed production. And if Shakespeare should really be heard in English, then the argument should follow that Chekhov should be heard in Russian.

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