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3 Sisters on Hope Street

My life is duller than a silent film.— Uncle Nate
3 Sisters on Hope Street
Cast in 3 Sisters on Hope Street
(Photo: Hugo Glendinning)
Diane Samuels and Tracy-Ann Oberman have co-written this new version of Chekhov's Three Sisters featuring a Jewish family who are living in Liverpool in 1946. The dream city that they long to live in, the Moscow of the original, here is Manhattan, New York and the army visitors are GIs stationed in the UK. Their mother was American and their father Russian.

The parallel adaptation works well in the main part and shows how Chekhov's original three sisters have similar hopes and aspirations to any young women who work hard but know that their lot is unlikely to get any better. In the opening scene, Vince (Finbar Lynch) an American pilot creates great excitement when the Laski daughters remember having met him as little girls in America. The three sisters, Gertie (Anna Francolini), May (Suzan Sylvester) and Rita (Samantha Robinson) are animated and long for the life they had when their mother was alive.

Arnold, their cosseted brother (Ben Caplan) introduces his frightful girlfriend, Debbie (Daisy Lewis) with her irritating Liverpudlian whine to the family and with each scene Debbie, who becomes his wife and mother to his children, becomes increasingly obnoxious. Elliot Levey plays Mordy, May's socially awkward schoolteacher husband who gives Rita an authorised prayer book for her birthday with a rabbinical commentary on every page. If I had given that to my daughter for her birthday, I doubt she would ever speak to me again. Suzan Sylvester's May reminded me of Prunella Scales twenty years ago. In the first scene May looks as if she has a migraine such is her agony at being married to the boring Mordy but later in scenes with Vince we see her personality sparkle.

As the play progresses Rita takes a tedious job with an accountant and agrees to marry not for love, but for companionship and looks forward to moving to Israel and life on a kibbutz. Like the original Irena, Rita is destined not even to fulfill this second best relationship when her fiancé Tush (Russell Bentley) is killed in a fight with Solly (Gerard Monaco). As Rita aptly says, "A man's devotion for you is never enough unless it matches your devotion for him." Sol is permanently depressed having been traumatised at the liberation of Dachau. I liked Philip Voss's Uncle Nate, the abortionist doctor who is trying to resist the 1948 advent of the National Health Service in Britain. Jennie Stoller as Auntie Beil still feels the Cossack danger even in Liverpool.

Lindsay Posner's production lacks pace occasionally; the first scene seems slow and stilted, dominated by the beat of an overloud and over obvious metronome but the production does improve. The personality of Debbie is so ghastly, it is hard to imagine why Arnold, let alone her councillor lover, would have fallen for her so I think this aspect of the play is crudely overdone. She becomes a caricature as she wheedles over the spoilt baby Bobby needing silence, ie. the radio turned off, while she screams about his needs in the harshest tones. Of course Debbie is able to empty a room, only the audience are stuck with her. Ruari Murchison's set is a 1940s living room, detailed and accurate but rather dingy to reflect the reduced circumstances of the sisters. There is plenty of Yiddish to make the production authentically Jewish.

The scene where Vince is threatened with being transferred back to the US to his family and his difficult wife is very poignant and Suzan Sylvester as May acts her tragic socks off. Finbar Lynch as Vince speaks the lyrics of "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and brings out an emphasis on the irony and sadness I was never before really aware of in the Irving Berlin song. Somehow Mordy's kindness and forgiveness to his wife, May makes him even more infuriatingly bland.

What doesn't have a real parallel with Chekhov is a sense of the social unrest that is to come. 3 Sisters on Hope Street gives a picture of life in Britain just after the war and looks forward to the establishment of Israel but there isn't much hope for the Lasky girls other than the name of the street their house is on.

Written by Diane Samuels and Tracy-Ann Oberman after Anton Chekhov
Directed by Lindsay Posner

With: Finbar Lynch, Russell Bentley, Ben Caplan, Anna Francolini, Elliot Levey, Daisy Lewis, Gerard Monaco, Samantha Robinson, Suzan Sylvester, Jennie Stoller, Philip Voss
Design: Ruari Murchison
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound: Matt McKenzie for Autograph
Music arranged and performed by : Jason Carr
A joint production between the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Hampstead Theatre
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 29th March 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th February 2008 performance at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London NW3 (Tube: Swiss Cottage)

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