Ah Moscow! In Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’, the titular heroines pine for the Russian capital; in London, we’re lucky that the city has come to us. Well, a piece of it anyway. Moscow’s Mossovet State Academic Theatre has arrived in the West End with two productions of Chekhov plays staged in their mother tongue for two weeks.
Apart from a jarring flourish at the start – where the Prozorov sisters swing from the rafters – and then later when some strange videos played during scene changes in which the cast explain their connection to their characters, Andrei Konchalovsky’s ‘Three Sisters’ is broadly a straightforward production.
Olga, Masha and Irina are desperate to trade their constricting country home for the bright lights of the capital. As time passes, their joy and energy is beaten down and their hopes for a fulfilled life dashed. Their brother’s ghastly new wife is vulgar; youngest sister Irina has suitors, but none that she loves; Masha’s marriage goes stale; and Olga – the oldest – works her fingers to the bone as a teacher with no promise of a husband.
The cast here are more controlled and less caricatured than in the other Mossovet production, ‘Uncle Vanya’. There’s a distinct flatness to the action (or rather, inaction), especially in the final scene where the poignancy of these women’s situation is lost in a touch of hysteria.
The three sisters themselves are excellent and all very different. Larisa Kuznetsova’s Olga is sparrow-like and nervous, Yulia Vysotskaya’s Masha is sultry and languid, while Galina Bob’s Irina is sweet as a button. Konchalovsky makes us like the trio, who are a little island of nostalgia in a rapidly transforming Russia. By the end, not much has changed yet everything has.
The subtitles were a little out of synch in the production I saw, but listening to the ebb and flow of the text in its original language is a treat.