Monday, 15 September 1997

The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, Hildegard, Sept 1997


The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
By Hildegard 
at Theatreworks until Sept 7, 1997

This review was published in The Melbourne Times in Sept 1997.
Oh happy days for Chekhov lovers! This week Melbourne-Moscow hosts (accidentally) twin productions of his classic, The Three Sisters, A.K.A. The Six Sisters or Three Sisters Squared.

Hildegard Theatre Company has a reputation for doing exotic theatre integrating text with music and dance but, in this version of the Sisters, the movement and music are, rather, interpolated amidst the text which is primary. This was surprising but not disappointing.

The sisters Olga, (Angela Campbell), Masha (Bagryana Popov) and Irena (Samantha Bewes) spend their trivial lives in a rural army town in Russia, grieving for their dead father, pining for Moscow where they lived happily until their father removed them to the country after mother died.

Director, David Latham highlights the sense of 'open house'. Officers, civilians, family and friends trail through their museum-like rooms and miserable lives day and night, winter and summer. Everybody 'philosophises' and carps about lost dreams and broken promises. They live in the golden past, complain about the present and hope for a better future in Moscow - or in love. Years pass. Nothing changes. Nobody leaves.
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This is a fine ensemble of actors. Campbell brings a vibrancy and stillness to the often stolid Olga and Bewes allows Irena's naivete' and brightness to tarnish as she becomes more jaded. Popov is appropriately languorous as the self-centred Masha. As the manipulative and tasteless Natasha, Caroline Lee is delightfully shrewish and hateful.

Latham keeps the play bouncing along at a cracking pace, always maintaining a state of dissatisfaction and discomfort amongst the population. The humour of Chekhov which glitters amongst the melancholy, is honed to a playful or satirical edge.
Jim Daly as the drunken old Chebutykin, the  laconic Greg Ulfan as the stirrer, Solyony and David Wicks as Kulygin, the pedantic school master, all play the dialogue the jokes with excellent comic timing and delivery.

The dialogue emphasises  the ecstatic and the melancholic in the Russian temperament. Chekhov had a cruel honesty, a warts and all gaze on all his characters.

The piano (Izabella Mougeraman) and balalaika (Yuriy Mougerman) and strains of Russian song provided a lyrical atmosphere and Peter Long's gorgeous painted scrim is a gift for Paul Jackson's evocative lighting.

The piece could have allowed more silence, pauses, further detail in the characters or relationships. It skipped like a stone over the surface in parts. But I'm being picky.

Kate Herbert