Sunday, 14 October 2012

Three Sisters at The Young Vic

Benedict Andrews puts an unconventional and modern twist to the classic Russian play by Chekhov. Although traditionalists may be unimpressed with Andrews' take, you cannot deny the creative and unique way he brings this to stage. 

Olga, Masha and Irina are three sisters, all well-educated, living in a provincial town. All three of them dream of Moscow and starting a new life there one day, where they will live meaningful lives full of happiness. The sisters are idealistic and full of hope. With their younger brother's marriage to a brash lady acting as a catalyst, life changes for them, but not in the way they hope for. 

One of the most impressive things about this play for me was the way that the set was designed. It was minimalistic, yet portrayed the characters' situations and emotions. The stage is put together with several grey tables. These tables move around and away as the story runs. Grey symbolises the ennui and lack of excitement in the lives of all three sisters. The bold edges and angles of the tables also represent their two-dimensional lives as well as the lack of opportunity and hope for them. As the sisters begin to lose hope, little by little, the tables are turned, eventually they are dismantled and taken away from the stage. By the third Act, after the town fire, the stage is bare. The sisters are exposed to their worse nightmare: immobility. There is a mound of earth on which the three sisters seek solace in one another. Unlike the first Act, where they are far apart and there is little dialogue between the three, on top of the mound of earth, the sisters are huddled together and are finally bonding. Each of them longed for better and as their idealism turns into realism, they are united again and stronger.

Other small touches in Andrews' version include a few moments of silence as all the characters watch a spinning top spin away, which evokes their lives spinning away before their eyes and out of their control. There is also the sing-a-long by all the characters to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. All of these touches emphasize the play's themes of ennui, diminished hope and the attitude of 'the grass is always greener'. The key message throughout that happiness is a myth is also underlined.

Unlike the traditional stage theatre, The Young Vic is an intimate theatre and has a surrounding audience. I feel that for this play, the stage worked particularly well. The music, the ringing bell and the characters' frustrations were all felt and heard by the audience, bringing these issues and themes alive and to the forefront. This gave the play an edge; although a classic Russian piece, these are modern day issues each and every one of us face at some point in our lives. There is no happy ever after with frills, nor curtains drawn at the end of the play. 

Strong symbolism and set design, impressive performances and a unique take on direction: a play that will be talked about for years to come. 

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