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Three Sisters review at Piccadilly Theatre, London – ‘stark and brooding’

Olga Drozdova, Alyona Babenko, Victoria Romanenko in Three Sisters at Piccadilly Theatre, London. Photo: Sovremennik Theatre Olga Drozdova, Alyona Babenko, Victoria Romanenko in Three Sisters at Piccadilly Theatre, London. Photo: Sovremennik Theatre
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Stark, severe, and infused with a sense of almost stifling desperation, Galina Volchek’s take on Chekhov’s Three Sisters is both gruelling and engrossing.

Concluding a brief West End retrospective of the work of Moscow’s renowned Sovremennik Theatre, the production features an impressive cast who comfortably convey the play’s cold compassion and austere humour.

A scene-stealing Ilya Drevnov chews – and quite often overturns – the scenery, marching mechanically about the space as aggressively contrarian Captain Soleny. Alyona Babenko plays middle sister Masha with an ideal mix of weary reserve and frustrated passion. Beside her, Vladislav Vetrov gives a gentle, imploring edge to her lover Vershinin’s dreamy philosophising. His arrival throws the family into a literal spin – the stage revolves on a turntable at an impressively reckless speed.

Designers Slava Zaitsev and Petr Kirillov have rendered the set as a bleak, whitewashed expanse, broken only by a few items of furniture, and framed by a slender, arching bridge. Damir Ismagilov’s bold lighting paints it all in broad strokes of lush indigo and fiery sunset pink. Distant sounds drift from offstage, a constant reminder of the outside world passing by. A plaintive violin plays in another room. Drunken soldiers sing in the street. A bitter wind whistles constantly.

In a play that can become bogged down in introspection, this lightness of touch is refreshing and energising. The production’s real achievement, though, is in making the characters’ self-imposed tragedies, and their fruitless longing for meaning, feel immediate, unendurable, and even heroic.

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Bleak aesthetics set the tone for this brooding Russian-language production of Chekhov’s classic