Wednesday, 11 August 2021

REVIEW: Tier Three Sisters at the Hope Theatre

The works of Anton Chekhov are always challenging even for the most erudite of theatregoers. Whilst his place in the pantheon of playwrights is assured he might be considered heavy going for some. I happily sighed with relief when an adaptation dropped invitingly through my inbox. A re-worked version of ‘Three Sisters’ is just the job for a long-overdue visit to the Hope Theatre in Islington. Based in the Hope & Anchor pub it was the complete entertainment venue pre-Covid; live bands playing in the basement, an excellent bar at street level and the theatre upstairs presenting some of the coolest plays on the fringe circuit. Like all theatre venues it’s beginning to find its feet again and a reassuring sign that normality is close at hand.

For the uninitiated, a brief cantor through the author’s work might be helpful. Anton Chekhov is now widely recognised as one of the great playwrights but was only properly appreciated after his premature death in 1904. His most notable works include the Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters which was first performed in 1901. Three Sisters tells the tale of siblings Olga, Masha and Irina. They live in a remote Russian town but dream of returning home to Moscow where they felt true happiness. 

This bright and purposeful production by Knuckledown relocates the action to a town in Lancashire during lockdown. The substitute for Moscow is good old Manchester as the girls long to be back home. The story opens in the back garden as eldest sister Olga (Chloe Metcalfe) carefully tends to some potted plants. Mouthy younger sister Masha (Bryony Davies) bemoans their humdrum existence; while youngest sister Irina (Chloe Wade) constantly ruminates as her thoughts buffer for priority. The sisters berate, cajole and support each other as they play a frustrating game of patience and months of inactivity pass inexorably on their way. But how will they emerge from lockdown and what are the chances of the sisters leading a normal life?

There is an undoubted resonance and common reference point for people picking up the threads of a normal existence. With the worst of Covid now hopefully behind us it also provides a burst of positivity and empathy we can all appreciate. Tellingly, the male characters are removed from the story which gives it an entirely new perspective. For an adaptation, it places a fair amount of distance from its inspiration, which in itself is no bad thing. It allows the play to stand alone but still draw on underlying themes from the original piece. The play aimed to break the fourth wall but didn’t entirely come off; the audience never seemed certain how to react or when exactly they should join in. There are, however, lots of good ideas bubbling away with a talented cast delivering charming performances. It feels pretty much like a work in progress but is an encouraging sign that the fringe is definitely back. 

Review by Brian Penn

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Unallocated | Price of Ticket: £15/£12 concessions

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