While sharing the title and basic plot structure of Chekhov’s original, this Three Sisters acknowledges the connection but is essentially a new play. The writer, Mustapha Matura, experienced the upper echelons of Trinidad society, particularly through his mother’s stories, and the characters in this work are acutely observed.
Audrey (Lorraine Burroughs, sweetly impatient and girlish) is having her coming-of-age party. Alma, the eldest, presides calmly while in the middle sits unhappy Helen. The gloom lifts when their visitors arrive – Audrey’s beloved Scott, Lucas (a fellow lieutenant), and Captain Rivers, their British army commanding officer. It is 1942, and all parts of the Empire are contributing to the war effort.
Rivers, matter-of-fact and without prejudice, is suitably discomfited by his family’s shameful association with slavery. The discovery of connections with Cambridge, where he was a student and where the sisters spent a blissful period as children, makes him particularly welcome – especially for Helen, who is discontented with her marriage to Francis (Andrew Dennis, splendid as this ghastly businessman/politician on the make).
Scott (Ben Bennett) has decided to resign his commission and pursue both his relationship with Audrey and independence for his country, despite his male peers’ contempt of his “cowardice”. Francis is doing very nicely from the status quo, while Lucas favours violence.
Brigid Zengeni is excellent as the wise maternal Alma - quietly despairing both of her fellow councillors and her feckless brother, Peter. Nicola Alexis invests Helen with yearning, desperate to reclaim passion and happiness, however fleeting. Audrey lives in hope, for herself and her country.
The set is a large colonial-style drawing room, and beyond the enormous shuttered windows is a veranda with gardens below: one easily imagines the view down to the sea. The brightness and oppressive heat and humidity of the Caribbean is effectively conveyed by the lighting design, sound and direction. No-one moves quickly unless driven to by need or by passion – it’s just too exhausting.
The sisters’ relationships with each other are observed affectionately, irritation and bickering notwithstanding, they are at one when confronted by travails and heartache. Funny and touching, Chekhov would be impressed.