Veteran Russian director Lev Dodin’s acutely perceptive retelling of Chekhov’s Three Sisters ditches lavish staging to focus on its essential themes of thwarted love and aspirations.
Stuck out in the provinces, the Prozorov sisters long to return to Moscow, their sole entertainment provided by soldiers stationed in the town. The eldest, Olga (Irina Tychinina), is a schoolmistress, while middle sister Masha (Ksenia Rappoport) is unhappily married to a pedantic teacher and the youngest, Irina (Ekaterina Tarasova), brims with expectation.
Meanwhile, their feckless brother Andrey (Aleksandr Bikovskii) gambles away his money before proposing to the awkward Natasha (Ekaterina Kleopina) – who is mercilessly teased for wearing the wrong-coloured sash.
Though the pace is rather languid in Act I, things pick up as the stakes are raised. Rappoport’s Masha combines no-nonsense candour with impulsive glee and Tychinina is every bit the stoical matriarch. But Tarasova’s Irina has the most deftly drawn journey: from radiating optimism, to pragmatically settling down with a man she’ll never love – Tuzenbach, the wonderfully lugubrious Oleg Ryazantsev – to inevitable resignation.
As in Life and Fate at Theatre Royal Haymarket last year, the Maly Drama Theatre’s ensemble work is superb: every performer is unwaveringly focused on the scene at hand: Natalia Sokolova’s nurse Anfisa demands attention whenever she appears and each soldier’s character is fully realised.
Alexander Borovsky’s austere set is a wooden house front that trundles downstage with the passing of each act, framing and almost stifling the action. At its doors and windows, characters overhear whispered conversations and secret assignations.
By the end, with the sisters grimly accepting that their dreams might never be fulfilled, the looming house has virtually squeezed them off the stage.