PLAYWAVE CREATIVE REVIEW: THREE SISTERS
Three Sisters by Anthony Chekov at Sydney Theatre Company. Photos by Brett Boarman.
It’s not about Three Sisters, it’s about one person and that’s you.
Reviewed by Zack Lewin
Before I say anything I need to really heavily disclaim one thing: I had never heard of Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov before seeing this STC rendition of it. Oops. So although it’s a classic I have absolutely no knowledge of the form it originally took - I know, that’s super classy of me. A bit embarrassing, but it’s not my fault they don’t teach us about international art in school!
I also need to clarify that this doesn't even begin to touch on the complex thoughts I have of this show, but every journey starts with a single step and this is that step.
Seeing this was also my first step into Chekhov and I very much enjoyed this show, but I’m still very critical. I can already hear a chorus of fanatics exposing me as 17 year old kid who thinks he has the right to be critical of Anton Chekhov - Well guess what, I do and so does everyone else. As young people we have a certain duty to reevaluate these classics and what they mean to us; how our perspectives impact how we view what we’re seeing.
It’s quite confronting to watch; people, just like us in many ways, deteriorating. Forced to watch these men and women tear their own selves apart purely because they can’t stand together as a family. It’s like a tragedy happening to several characters at once, except this time it felt, at least for me, that it was my own tragedy; that this tragedy could happen to me.
Admittedly I’m not a sister who’s life is threatened by psychotic men and I’m not a councillor with a gambling problem and a Regina George of a wife - or any of the other quirky characters. But, I am a person, and this show was near universal in its portrayal of people and their self devised incapacities to live happily, my own self devised incapacities.
I’m obviously very young, how else would I be writing for Playwave, and with that comes my own obnoxious teenage existential dread - classic. It’s always been terribly clear to me that I have such an inane fear of losing contact with people, because I’m very sentimental and I’m not exactly used to it? Most of us kids have grown up in the midst of social media usurping face-to-face communication; the idea of someone important in my life not, at the very least, being my Facebook friend pains me. Lots of my peers feel similarly towards this idea. We don’t want to lose people.
And this show forced me to watch all of these people slip away from one another. It’s really confronting to be faced with the inevitability of change. One day everything will be so much fun and buzzing with life and the next all of that will be dispersed, dissolved back into the world around us. Still here, but gone. It felt like a threat to my own friendships, my groups of friends I love and hold dear won’t be around soon, for one reason or another; it felt like this show was taunting me and teasing me and bullying me with the harsh reality of life.
This story was analogical of my own future and that hurt.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t particularly invested in any of the characters, that was a bit unfortunate. Usually I love to be wholly invested in a character, but this show couldn’t do that so I was forced to compromise. I don’t think I noticed myself projecting my thoughts and feelings into the characters but I definitely was. That was my way of building an enjoyable experience out of relatively unsubstantial characters - sorry Chekhov fans.
I felt at times that the incredible performances were wasted on these characters, I admit it may have been my unfamiliarity with the text but some of these performances were so strong. I was particularly connected to Miranda Daughtry as Irena, especially in many of her younger more naive scenes, the pain of this fiercely idealist woman was only real through Daughtry's undeniable presence. And Alison Bell as Olga blew me away in her ability to execute such an inwardly dominant person, and her subtle but clear weak spots penetrating her strong facade. It was just a shame for me that these characters didn’t pierce my heart beyond individual scenes, that they acted to me not as real people but instead as symbols of personal ideology. Again, this is just the style of writing, it is a modernist piece after all and I live in a post-modern world, perhaps I wanted something more individualistic, rather than a trifecta that I interpreted to be symbolic of a whole.
The showing that I got to see, which was the 14th of December, two of the actors had changed due to unforeseen circumstances. That was exciting because I got to see a unique version of the show! And now that I have, I couldn’t imagine anyone but Nikki Shiels playing Masha. She had chained herself to a sensual and cynical lens and it tore her from herself and reality, but I couldn’t even tell if that was a bad thing, Shiel’s performance insisted that the only thing worth our time was sex and humour - and that even those are fake. She was the most woke character, and Shiels knew it.
If Olga was realism, the face of sucking it up and moving on despite the exponential pain, and Irena was idealism, the face of trying and trying and hoping for the best only to be shot right back down: Then Masha was the in-between, she was both, the face of the ideal that exists within the real, but even that stops being real eventually.
That's symbolic of the teenage narrative, of coming of age: Three sisters in an unseen war against the ideal and against the reality and when we finally find it to be both it's still torn away from us like a falling bell tower.
I spent 3 hours in a theatre being mocked for trying to be happy. Thanks Chekhov.
11 - 15 December