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Review of Rashdash’s Three Sisters at The Yard Theatre

RashDash - Three Sisters Production Photos (photographer credit The Other Richard)
RashDash – Three Sisters Production Photos (photographer credit The Other Richard)

I suppose there must be a least a little respect for Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) in this version of Three Sisters, markedly different in having no visiting soldiers, no fire and no dinner table, let alone dinner table discussions. Dressed as cheerleaders (only for a brief scene, mind you), presumably as some sort of attempt to portray women as they have been traditionally seen in plays, particularly the classics, Olga (Helen Goalen), Masha (Abbi Greenland) and Irena (Becky Wilkie) spell out the name ‘Chekhov’ as though he should be celebrated.

Speaking of brief scenes, there were many of them – I hesitate to conclude categorically that there were too many, given the production’s seeming desire to use words only when necessary. Some of the pauses in the dialogue go on for some minutes, but this does not mean complete silence, with drummer Chloe Rianna and violinist and synthesiser player Yoon-Ji Kim providing live music. The ‘sisters’ themselves prove adept at musicianship as well as vocals: a number of songs are performed, in a variety of styles, though the sound at the performance I attended was not quite balanced, so some of the words were missed. Whether the songs carried the narrative forward or merely reiterated what had already been said or was about to be said, I couldn’t possibly say. Or, to misquote Chekhov, if only I knew.

This reinterpretation of this well-known play is not wholly convincing. It’s repositioned from rural Russia where a move to the capital, Moscow, is but a pipe dream, to ‘the city’ – which, judging by talk of mobiles, Morrisons and the cost of living, I assumed to mean suburban London (but I am willing to stand corrected on that point). The longing of moving to a better place, both literally and figuratively, simply isn’t there to be portrayed anymore. But more pertinently, although overtly claiming to be a feminist piece of theatre, the adversities of the sisters in Chekhov’s original are far worse than the ‘first world problems’ issues encountered by this trio.

The storyline could, assuming no prior knowledge of Three Sisters, have been more clearly delineated. Putting myself in the position of someone who has not seen a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters before, the key question is this: would I be able to understand what was going on? I think that version of me would. He might not, however, be wholly persuaded that three young women in London, in this day and age, would really sit around and mope because they have nothing to do: many people in the capital behave as though they could do with an eighth day in the week every so often, as their schedules are so crammed.

There is some physical theatre and interpretive dance to be enjoyed, though the many costume changes were not universally justified. One scene sees the trio put on what looked like bear costumes, resume their conversation, and then change again. What for? A point about freedom of expression was quite literally demonstrated repeatedly until it had long lost any provocative and dramatic impact.

F—k you and your excellent words!” the sisters’ bellow, presumably at Chekhov – hence my hesitance at the start of this review to credit this production with having unambiguous for their playwright. And then, at one point, Masha simply bellows – I am at a loss to explain why, especially as it seemed out of character. What I can say is that the profanity-laced lyrics and dialogue is hardly an improvement on the original.

It is genuinely humorous in places, though with the large number of songs performed at such a high volume, I occasionally wondered if I was watching a play or a gig. Demonstrations of the flexibility and strength of the characters in more ways than one reveal that these sisters, as Annie Lennox one sang, are “doin’ it for themselves / Standin’ on their own two feet / And ringin’ on their own bells.” There are some good and clever ideas here, but there are a lot of them, leaving insufficient time to develop them all. The creative brainboxes behind this production would do well to heed that less can sometimes be more.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

How should I make the most of being alive in this moment? How should I try to enjoy life whilst also being a good person who makes space for a better future? What is love and where do I find it?
Why do the men in this play have all the lines?

Creators and performers Abbi Greenland, Helen Goalen and Becky Wilkie
Band Chloe Rianna Burke and Yoon-ji Kim
Music Becky Wilkie
Lighting Designer Ziggy Jacobs-Wyburn
Designer Rosie Elnile

Three Sisters By Rashdash, After Chekhov
The Yard Theatre Unit 2a Queens Yard, White Post Lane, London E9 5EN
Tuesday 22 May – Saturday 8 June, 8pm
Press Nights Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24 May, 8pm
Running Time Approx 60 minutes (no interval)
Age guidance 14+, contains strong language and sexual themes

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