Three Sisters King’s Theatre

This is the third and latest of John Byrne’s Chekhov adaptations – the others being The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya. Set originally in the isolated countryside of Tsarist Russia in 1900, Byrne moves the action to the swinging 1960s and the naval base in Dunoon. The three sisters – Olga, Masha and Irina are now Olive, Maddy and Renee and, instead of faraway Moscow, they pine for the bright city lights of London which they left behind when their father moved north as Commander of the base. On paper the similarities sound intriguing but in practice the switch doesn’t always work and we have to suspend disbelief in a big way to imagine that women in the liberated 60s couldn’t just hop on a train to Glasgow or London if they were so unhappy with their lot.

The sisters represent the old ruling classes, the privileged elite. They consider themselves to be intellectually superior to the locals and they feel stifled by their environment, longing to return to the sophistication and familiarity of their old home in the metropolis of London. After their father’s death, they discuss selling the family home and moving back, but nothing changes and they become immersed deeper and deeper in their inertia. London is a symbol of youthful promise and hope which will never be fulfilled.

It was interesting to see Scottish comedy actor Jonathan Watson in a serious role as Archie, the brother, and also ex-Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy as Dr MacGillivery. Muireann Kelly as Olive, Sally Reid as Maddy and Jessica Hardwich as Renee were all excellent in their portrayal of the sisters as was Louise McCarthy as Natasha, the vulgar, social climbing sister-in-law. The script is crisp and clear and there are some great one-liners and comic moments in the first half. My only criticism would be that the dialogue occasionally does not flow naturally and the pauses contrive to make it feel a bit disjointed and unnatural. This is remedied in the more serious second half as passions overflow and events draw to their painful conclusion.

I approached this adaptation with some trepidation as my previous experience of Three Sisters was not a happy one – the 2006 Edinburgh Festival production by Polish director Krystian Lupa which met with almost universal derision and caused many in the audience to leave at the interval. Thankfully there were no such problems this time and this is an excellent interpretation of the play with just the right amount of lightness and caustic wit to counterbalance the tragedy and despair. John Byrne is a hugely talented writer and artist and I’m a big fan of his work -Tutti Frutti, Writer’s Cramp and The Slab Boys to name but a few. I don’t know if I would put this one up there with the others but it is certainly worth seeing.

Irene Brownlee