Monday, November 20, 2017


Eryn Jean Norvill as Masha. Alison Bell as Olga. Miranda Daughtry as Irina
in the Sydney Theatre Company production of Three Sisters. Photo: Brett Boardman


Three Sisters by Anton Chekov.

Translated and adapted by Andrew Upton. Directed by Kip Williams. Assistant director. Jada Alberts.  Designer Alice Babidge. Lighting designer. Nick Schlieper. Composer and sound designer.  The Sweats. Sound designer. Nate Edmondson. Voice and text coach. Charmian Gradwell. Sydney Theatre Company. The Drama Theatre. Sydney Opera House . November 10 – December 16 2017. Bookings: or (02) 92501777.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

To see Kip Williams’s wonderfully staged production of Chekov’s Three Sisters in Andrew Upton’s fiery and theatrically explosive adaptation and translation is to imagine the special relationship between playwright, Anton Chekov and the Moscow Arts Theatre’s Konstantin Stanislavski.  From the opening birthday preparation with coloured balloons, inflated by Olga at the gas cylinder, to the revelry of the New Year’s Eve celebrations and Masha’s obsessive dance and the image of the teacher, circling the troubled Irina on a bicycle around an open stage, Williams skilfully choreographs a changing stagescape of dreams and desires, of fateful fortunes, shattered hopes and entrapped longings. This Sydney Theatre Production of Chekov’s tragi-comedy must loom large as one of the funniest, saddest, most disturbing and most profound productions that I have seen. Every moment is carefully and sensitively portrayed as a lesson in Life.
Miranda Daughtry, Anthony Brandon Wong and Alison Bell
STC's Three Sisters. Photo; Brett Boardman
Chekov’s characters assume iconic status. We have seen many of them in other plays by the country doctor with a keen eye for the human condition. Williams has cast his production with appreciation of the circumstances that place each character in the same situation and yet makes each uniquely different in character. Masha (Eryn Jean Norvill), Irina (Miranda Daughtry) and Olga (Alison Bell) live with their brother Andrei (Brandon McClelland), a councillor, and his domineering wife, Natasha (Nikki Shiels) in the parental home. Their world is predictable, determined by tradition and expectation. It is a world that suffocates, stifles, and conforms. Each character is torn apart by desire, thwarted by circumstance and tormented by Life’s unerring confinement. Olga struggles to preserve the memory of her father, now deceased a year, and uphold his legacy. Masha, trapped in a her marriage to the teacher Kulygin (Chris Ryan), longs for the unrestrained, passionate love of her colonel, Vershinin (Mark Leonard Winter ), a married man with two daughters. Irina longs to escape the barren existence of her life and work as a post office clerk and escape to her home, to Moscow. She rejects the admission of love by Tusenbach (Harry Greenwood), only to be bereft of hope and resigned to live out her days without love.

Chris Ryan, Mark Leonard Winter and Eryn Jean Norvell
in STC's Three Sisters. Photo Brett Boardman
Stanislavski’s search for truth and Chekov’s affectionate portrayal of the flawed inhabitants of his town and time lie at the very core of this production. Williams and Upton have not constructed an authentic portrait of Tsarist Russia. And yet, we can imagine ourselves to be witnessing Chekov’s characters in their time as easily as we can suppose the characters to be living out the attitudes and emotion of our age. Director and writer have identified the burning motivation of Chekov’s characters. A stellar cast is flung with all the desires, fears and frustrations of readily recognizable characters, headlong into the twenty first century against the backdrop of Chekov’s story of people trapped within the troubled years of pre-revolutionary Russia. Anachronism does not defy truth. It illuminates the universal humanity of all peoples and all ages and speaks with force and truth to the audiences of our time. If you search for the realism of Chekov’s age, you may be disappointed. Do not be concerned by Olga and Masha, dressed in jeans or the expletives erupting from Masha’s mouth in torrents of frustration.  If you look for the true nature of humanity, a universal truth will be revealed in a production that is honest, powerful and revealing.
Harry Greenwood and Mark Leonard Winter
in STC's Three Sisters. Photo: Brett Boardman
I am struck by the Sydney Theatre Company production, not because I am exposed to Chekov’s world, although that is implicit within the action and words of the characters, but because I see all humanity revealed through the lives and longings of the three sisters, the jealousies and rages of the frustrated, the failings of the vulnerable and the weak, the injustices of class, the violence within the heart and minds of the human condition and the transient passage of all people’s fleeting mortality. Such is the mirror held up to Nature in Williams’s production of Three Sisters.  We laugh. We cry. We dream. We die. It is this lesson in Life that makes this production of Three Sisters compelling and must see theatre.