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A CurtainUp Review
Michael Blakemore, who made history by winning awards on Broadway in the same year for Best Director of a Play (Copenhagen) and Best Director of a Musical (Kiss Me Kate), directs Chekhov's tale of longing and dashed hopes. Christopher Hampton has provided a new adaptation. It sounds like the ingredients for a dream production.
But it isn't. I'm finding it very hard to analyse what has gone wrong. It isn't Kristin Scott Thomas - she is exquisite. It is hard to take one's eyes off her. Maybe that is what is wrong? The play becomes lop-sided, we are looking at only One Sister instead of Three.
Christopher Hampton's script has occasional anachronistic elements but they are not egregious. The production also seems to lack some of the humour which is essential in Chekhov to bring contrast with the overbearing ennui and despair of the family stuck in the provincial town, to bring warmth to the characters. The intensity in the final act was not there. Somehow for the first time watching Three Sisters I was not moved. I didn't feel despair, only disappointment at Irina losing the marriage option to a man she didn't love, of Masha losing the man she loves but can't have, of Olga resigning herself to life as a schoolteacher.
Kristin Scott Thomas is 42 to Masha's supposed 25, but then living in Russia does age one so. She is very beautiful, amazingly expressive, deep set eyes, translucent skin, heavenly cheekbones. In the opening scenes she drapes herself on a chaise longue, reads a book and exudes boredom. If the rest of the production equalled her performance, this Three Sisters would have been perfection. As her husband, James Fleet drops unnecessary Latin phrases into his everyday conversation. He is so boring and irritating that we fully understand why Masha made a mistake in marrying him. This is tinged with her guilt because he isn't a bad husband just one who is no match for the lovely Masha.
Douglas Hodge is a bumbling, henpecked Andrei sentenced to wheeling the pram up and down while his ghastly wife Natasha (Susannah Wise) flirts with Protopopov. Andrei's academic ambitions are reduced to achieving a position on the town council. He drinks and gambles away the house belonging to him and his sisters. Hodge's performance reeks disillusionment. Kate Burton is a quiet presence as Olga. She tells Vershinin and Masha to stop holding each other as they say farewell with a schoolmistressly, "That's enough!". Madeleine Worrall's Irene ages as each year confirms more loss of hope and lack of prospect. I liked the scene between Irene and the Baron (Tobias Menzies) just before the duel. Robert Bathurst, as Vershinin, although a handsome figure, leaves an overwhelming impression of complaining about his wife, of self-indulgence rather than loving Masha. Eric Sykes and Margery Mason have splendid cameos and add Russian texture as the elderly Ferapont and the unwanted nurse, Anfisa. Susannah Wise's Natasha jarred for me. She is not so much vulgar as loud and bad tempered, shrieking and stamping her foot and very cruel to the old nurse. David Burke's drunken doctor Chebutykin is sound and very Russian.
The period set has a curious modern backdrop of constructed wire boxes presumably to demonstrate constraint and an oversized door architrave. The final scene is on a rather modern wooden decked veranda and the wire boxes have multiplied but now support foliage. I almost expected to see a barbecue trolley on the decking. The grouping did seem rather cramped on the set, which we expect in the attic scenes but not in the drawing room.
There were points I could admire in Blakemore's direction. At the table, individuals rise to speak so we can see them. In the final scene as the sisters wave goodbye not just to the soldiers, but also to their dashed hopes, Blakemore has them stand there, motionless, arms raised for a poignant moment. Twice he uses a photographic grouping to recall historical period.
I may not have understood Michael Blakemore's interpretation of Three Sisters but there seemed too little sisterly contact here. In emphasising the sisters' inability to stand up to Natasha, he may have diluted their strength, the intensity of the play's final act.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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