By the time we arrive at our seats there is already a figure playing the piano
with his back to us - so far, so normal. Over the next few minutes though, most
of the cast take their places and begin to move around but the chatting does not
subside. Are we waiting for them or are they waiting for us? The piano stops and
the lights go off: Ah, I see. The play is starting now.
Filter's version of Anton Chekov's play (with an
adaptation by Christopher Hampton), does not shy away from such uneasy moments.
There are plenty of dramatic pauses mid-conversation and the lights stay on
between scenes, whilst the actors themselves move the props and furniture. Filter
have been lauded for their physicality, which is used by great effect by
director Sean Holmes. He is not afraid to crowd everyone around a dinner table,
half the backs towards us or indulge in a little vodka induced singing and
The three sisters in question are Irina, Masha and Olga
Prozonov (Clare Dunne, Romola Garai and Poppy Miller), bored of provincial
Russia and desperate to go back to Moscow, to really live for once. For the
sisters, particularly the youngest Irina, these two concepts are one and the
same. To pass the time, we have affairs, a destructive fire, a romance-fuelled
duel and plenty of 'theorising'.
The latter does get a little heavy and
repetitive at times and perhaps is better pondered curled up with the text and
with care but the actors' certainly give their all to the long speeches. The
characters are preoccupied with the values of work, if they will ever be happy
and the chances of their suffering living on in posterity - the kind of
meta-theatrical conceit that almost has you shouting 'Yes, we hear
Some performances do border on being overdone but this is drama,
after all. Indeed, Jonathan Broadbent convinces as Nikolai Tuzenbach, the
work-shy Baron who has been in love with Irina for five years but "can't quite
get used to it." Nigel Cooke's drunken Doctor Ivan Chebutykin, who has forgotten
all he knew, serves up comedic existentialism delightfully and Ferdy Roberts as
the Prozonov brother Andrei shows impressive range: from nervous, arty academic
to gambling, despairing husband who settles for being a member of the local
council, all in just over two hours.
Finally, a word on Filter's
trademark use of sound. They manage not to fall into the trap of making the
method too gimmicky: not just when Andrei and his wife-to-be Natasha are
overheard by the rest of the cast having a, shall we say, private discussion but
indeed the microphones intensify the drama. Theatre can have its quiet moments
too and it is these that are given added power.
Those who are not
familiar with experimental theatre may not enjoy the mash-ups of modern music
between scenes, the distracting sound of ticking or waiting for a kettle to boil
("I'll show you a new kind of patience...") but then again Filter are not
interested in the audience's comfort zone. If they continue like this, they may
just make everything else you watch seem positively mediocre.