Promise

Thirties America is a canny setting for this update of Anton Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’. The Great Depression leading up to World War II provides a strong historical frame for the sense of loss and shifting social sands that underpin the 1900 original.

Stranded far from their beloved New York in a provincial town following their Air Force father’s transfer, Marie (Lois Deeny), Olivia (Natalie Hillier) and Irene (Sophie Angelson) are still grief-stricken by their mother’s death a year ago. As Pearl Harbour looms, the sisters suffer broken hearts, crushed hopes and their brother’s pushy local wife.

Don’t expect many laughs. Actor-writer Angelson’s worthwhile but heavy-going script starts on a depressing note and proceeds along a grimly miserable plateau. However, the melodramatic pitch of James Kemp’s direction does make for some unintentionally amusing scenes of hollow-eyed hand-wringing.

But even if the unrelenting tone at times leaves the production feeling as though it’s teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown, its best moments have real dramatic weight and emotional heft. Deeny, Hillier and Angelson wring every ounce of pain out of their roles as three educated women trapped by circumstance.

Elsewhere, Rachel Barry successfully makes sister-in-law Natasha both a legitimate victim of snobbery and genuinely unlikeable, while Jamie McKie’s bubbly Tommy is a welcome ray of sunshine. Of several well-drawn characters in this thoughtful adaptation, it’s his story that tugs hardest on the heart strings. Tom Wicker

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