The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond celebrates its 30th birthday this season with a unique celebration of the work of Anton Chekhov and, in particular, his classic The Three Sisters. A new translation of the play will run in repertory along with the British premiere of a modern sequel, Three Sisters Too, until 20 April 2002.

In Chekhov's 1901 piece, which opened at the Orange Tree on Friday, the three sisters of the title - Olga, Masha and Irina - are looking forward to the future. It's Irina's "name day", soldiers from the military barracks are visiting and, at the celebratory lunch, the sisters' brother Andrey is proposing marriage to Natasha. As time passes, hopes and dreams, lives and loves are changed and the move to Moscow remains as elusive as ever.

The sisters are played by Cate Debenham-Taylor, Anna Hewson and Octavia Walters, who are joined in the cast by David Antrobus, Jason Baughan, Helen Blatch, Louise Bolton, Stuart Fox, Damien Matthews, Robert McBain, Richard Rees, Benedick Swann and Peter Wyatt. The Three Sisters is newly translated by Carol Rocamora and directed by Orange Tree artistic director Sam Walters.

On 27 February, it's joined in the repertory by Three Sisters Too, which takes up the sisters' story in 1920, after the Russian Revolution. Under Lenin and the Bolsheviks, life is very different for the Prozorov family, who now occupy only a small portion of their old home. Olga, Irina, Natasha and Andrey await the return of Masha, with news to change their lives forever.

Written by Reza de Wet, Three Sisters Too was first produced in the author's native South Africa in 1997. This is the British premiere of the play and the first time that any of de Wet's major full-length plays has been seen in this country. In the sequel, the sisters are played by Anna Carteret, Belinda Lang and Kim Thomson. The cast also includes Helen Blatch, Colin Hurley, Octavia Walters, Timothy Watson, Maggie Wells and Jeffry Wickham. The production is directed by Auriol Smith and designed by Margarete Forsyth.

The 30th anniversary season continues in April with Happy Birthday Dear Alice, another co-production with Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre, running from 24 April to 19 May. Further ahead, the Orange Tree's summer showcase will feature a double bill of Harold Pinter's A Kind of Alaska and Gillian Plowman's Me and My Friend, directed by young directors Svetlana Dimcovic and Paul Griffiths, running in repertory from 13 to 20 June 2002.

- by Terri Paddock