sat 20/07/2019

Three Sisters, Maly Drama Theatre, Vaudeville Theatre review - a Chekhov of luminous clarity | reviews, news & interviews

Three Sisters, Maly Drama Theatre, Vaudeville Theatre review - a Chekhov of luminous clarity

Three Sisters, Maly Drama Theatre, Vaudeville Theatre review - a Chekhov of luminous clarity

Stagecraft skill and company playing meld seamlessly in Petersburg production

Informal gathering: Dodin deconstructs the proscenium

Lev Dodin has been artistic director of the famed Maly Drama Theatre for some three and a half decades now, over which time the St Petersburg company has earned itself the highest of international reputations. London audiences have been fortunate to see a number of its recent achievements, with a season last year that brought us Uncle Vanya and Life & Fate, and they return now, for just 10 days, with Chekhov's Three Sisters (played in Russian, with excellent English-language surtitling). Dodin's production premiered on the company's home stage in October 2010, and nearly a decade of performance has distilled it into the very best that the Maly can offer, complete ease of ensemble playing in a style that achieves striking but never stretched intimacy. There's no grand formality or elaborate effects here, rather a closeness of style that can be as gloriously informal as it is emotionally nuanced, and with its deconstruction of the proscenium and bringing the action out into the auditorium, it has transferred very nicely to the Vaudeville Theatre. 

Its dominating stage picture, designer Alexander Borovsky's double-storied, multi-windowed house frame, has an impressive sense of scale. The fact that the structure moves forward with each act emphasises that this is a production shaped in every sense by the stage space thus defined, making the contributions of Dodin as director and Borovsky as designer surely equally integral to the result. It's almost as if they have added an extra character to the drama – the family home, the place itself – something which we feel closely in The Cherry Orchard, of course, but rarely so with this play.Igor Chernevich and the cast of Three SistersBorovsky's visual texture is distinctly spartan, walls of rough-hewn timber and window spaces left brutally empty: this could as much be a railway station as a home (pictured above, Igor Chernevich as Vershinin, front). It seems set apart from the town, with an intense feeling of sparse nature, that “Slavic climate” with its modest birch trees of which Vershinin speaks on his first appearance, exactly the bareness of northern landscape that Chekhov and his artist friends loved so much (and which he missed acutely at the end of his life among Yalta's palm trees).

The atmosphere seems defined by a pronounced sense of thrift, beginning from the frugal table being set to mark the name day of youngest sister Irina (Ekaterina Tarasova), a celebration whose mood feels closer to an extension, a year on, of the wake for the trio’s dead father. There’s no ornament in Borovsky's costumes, either, the soldiers wearing military greatcoats of a ready-for-combat, rough cut that may seem timeless but is surely appreciably 20th century, while in the final scene eldest sister Olga – who has rarely seemed so old and care-worn as she does in Irina Tychinina’s portrayal here – appears bonneted like some Civil War commissar. Into this straightened colour scheme, which sets the two older sisters in black against Irina's contrapuntal white, Borovsky throws in the subtlest of hues – dark blue, lilac, maroon – to modulate the visual palette.

It creates some stylised interaction, communication almost on a horizontal plane

That’s the kind of detail that captures the sheer care of his design, as well as of the production as a whole. Dodin is clearly enthralled by the bigger-picture opportunities the set affords as he assembles a series of tableau-like scenes, arranging his characters in and around the empty window frames of the wall: it’s almost as if this half-completed, or possibly half-wrecked house is itself looking out at us through blank eyes. It creates some stylised interaction, communication almost on a horizontal plane, as the characters, each set in his or her own window, stand somehow in commentary on stage-front proceedings. It renders the question whether a character is on- or off-stage at any given moment almost redundant, engendering new connections that can touch on the vaudevillian. Thus, we witness Masha overhearing, with some hilarity, her husband Kuligin’s admission to Olga that he might have been happier marrying her after all, then later, and even more notably, the moment when Kuligin physically intervenes to break up the kiss – it's rather more of an erotic tussle here – which his wife is bestowing on the departing Vershinin. (Pictured below: from left, Elizaveta Boyarskaya, who alternates with Ksenia Rappoport as Masha, Ekaterina Tarasova, Irina Tychinina)

3S-l-r Elizaveta Boyarskaya, Ekaterina Tarasova and Irina Tychinina in Three SistersMoments of such outstanding stagecraft abound and play organically with a cast that seems so closely anchored in their world that they might indeed have grown up on the bare soil of these unforgiving climes. Ksenia Rappoport stands out, darkly distracted as Masha, her thrice-repeated “To Moscow!” uttered practically as a shriek from the gut. But then the pillow fight, relieving the tension after the fire, is a supremely light moment, one that defines the unforced playing achieved by the three women. Varying the tone, brother Andrei (Alexander Bikovskii) appears more ridiculous than usual, a blustering Bunter-like figure who is left, literally, tending the pram – something of a paradox, perhaps, given that Ekaterina Kleopina’s Natasha seems less pronouncedly annoying than the part is often played.

The supporting male roles – these fallible men who struggle to realise life to its full – are portrayed with such relaxed, humorous conviction, particularly Sergei Kutyshev’s doctor: the generous breadth of his spirit almost steals some of his scenes, while Oleg Ryazantzev’s Tuzenbach achieves the genuine dignity that so often seems out of his reach. There's an outstanding turn from Sergei Vlasov as the cuckolded Kuligin, whose apparent pettiness is transcended by his sheer absorption in life, and who rises to the closing demands of his situation with redemptive self-knowledge. Dodin’s final achievement, the wise delight with which this production is endowed, is to take its mood beyond comedy or tragedy, to make these ebbs and flows of emotion seem as natural as breathing itself. 

There's no grand formality or elaborate effect here, rather a closeness of style that can be as gloriously informal as it is emotionally nuanced

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters