As the Prozorov sisters disappeared from Chekhov's world, it was the dawn of the 20th century; when we meet them once again, it is 1920 and Russia is in thrall to the Bolsheviks. Vershinin (Jeffrey Wickham), Masha's former lover, and Igor (Timothy Watson), a beleaguered dramatist are living under the protection of Andrey, now a plump, disillusioned town councillor.
His sisters Olga (Anna Carteret) and Irina (Kim Thomson) remain at home - Olga wearied by life's vicissitudes, Irina still clinging to the optimism of old - with inertia and disappointed hopes generally the order of the day. It's not until the return from Moscow of the third sister, glamorous Masha (Belinda Lang), that anything starts to change - it's Masha's dramatic news that eventually spurs the Prozorovs into action.
De Wet says her motivation for this new play sprang from her own position as an Afrikaner inhabiting another society poised on the threshold of change. Inspired by Chekhov's themes of loss and dispossession, she here fuses aspects of both Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard - the former in literal terms of character and plot, the latter permeating the play with the same sense of elegiac rhythm and poignancy.
In some respects this all works well. You certainly feel that De Wet evokes the same emotional ambience that suffuses Chekhov, but as a script, it's occasionally over-predictable, less subtle than the original. Notwithstanding this, Auriol Smith directs beautifully and Margarete Forsyth's set vividly recreates the decaying elegance of the Prozorov household.
What really lifts this drama though is the sheer calibre of the acting, which is exemplary. Apart from being individually excellent, Lang, Carteret and Thomson genuinely gel as the eponymous sisters and Colin Hurley is equally convincing as their peevish brother. Jeffrey Wickham too is wonderful as the genial Vershinin, an elderly general of the White Army.
It's an absolute pleasure to see such a superb cast in action, and they're to be highly applauded for creating an engrossing production that more than does justice to the original text.
- Amanda Hodges