There are dramatic updates and there are dramatic updates. Controversial Australian director and writer Benedict Andrews effectively punches Chekhov’s play full in the face. And the results are exhilarating.
A scene from Three Sisters at the Young Vic, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Usually people don’t speak of ‘bullshit’ of ‘crap’ or hair transplants or call people ‘cunts’ in any Chekhov I’ve seen. And this has to be the first time I have ever heard Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit drunkenly sung at full pelt by most of the entire cast of this 1900 classic which traditionally offers a solemn and elegy on this rural milieu’s struggles adapting to the modern world. To say the focus is on raw, brutal emotions is an understatement.
The three main parts are played with panache, with Vanessa Kirby especially compelling as Masha, probably the most charismatic of the sisters but given in this performance a turbo charge of deliciously naughty, convincing, cackly pissed frustration and anger.
I was also taken with Danny Kirrane’s Andrey - the brother who loses his promise and ends the play clad in a grubby tracksuit pushing a child around in an eerie and uncomfortable evocation of our own underclass.
And it was a bold move to make Emily Barclay’s Natasha a brassy Antipodean, gauche and vulnerable at first before evolving into a high-heeled monster of selfish cruelty.
Credit too to Johannes Schutz’s simple designs, a largely bare stage where instead of the the trees that traditionally surround the sisters’ mansion we have a simple muddy mound. The opening scenes feel very neon lit before we give way to a darker feel, grubbier clothes and a stripping away of a stage which turns out to have been built on a series of interlocking tables. It is a perfect a metaphor of the destructive power unleashed by sheer bitter frustration in a dazzling and unforgettable production.