According to the programme, Christopher Hampton’s version of Three Sisters at the Lyric Hammersmith directed by Sean Holmes and the Filter theatre company, is here to raise “the audience’s otherwise sluggard pulses in a revivifying revival”: what more introduction could we possibly need?!
Three Sisters opens with Irina Prozorova’s name-day celebration, in the provincial Russian town where their late military father had been stationed. Irina and her sisters Olga and Masha make half-hearted attempts to put up with life in their adopted home, but cannot stop longing for their birth town Moscow. We then follow the sisters and a group of acquaintances over a 3 year period as the sisters learn the hard lessons of life.
Filter are known for their use of sound and in parts of the first half, this approach was quite effective. I loved the use of microphones dotted around the stage to allow us to eavesdrop on whispered conversations in dark corners and permitted full use of the stripped-back stage. I was less sure about the use of an amplified boiling kettle to represent a passing storm, and quite why a violin case had to be used to pop a balloon to imitate a gunshot (and unsuccessfully I might ungentlemanly add, the actor had to just slam the case in the end), I do not know. The second half had much less of this, an imbalance which ended up giving the impression that they could have gone quite a bit further with this sonic creativity to be honest.
Perhaps the best known name in the cast is Romola Garai, and she is very good as the unhappily married Masha, but Poppy Miller as Olga and Clare Dunne as Irina match her nicely and they form a strong triumvirate at the centre of this play. But although they are titular, there are many other characters with as much import in this play and they were supported well by John Lightbody’s dashing and poetic Vershinin, Jonathan Broadbent’s foppish Baron and Paul Brennen’s bookish and really quite amusing Kulygin. Ferdy Roberts and Gemma Saunders also did well as the Prozorov brother and sister-in-law taking over the house and the lives of the sisters.
My heart sank when I saw the running time of 3 hours as we entered the auditorium (it actually came in at a shade under) and the bare staging that evokes the NT’s recent Mother Courage, but to its credit, I never felt it drag at any point. It is engaging enough and well-acted but not one that particularly moved me or my sluggard pulse, a comment on the play more than the production I feel.