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Three Sisters (Southwark Playhouse)

Russell Bolam directs an engaging modern-day retelling of Chekhov's classic

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Emily Taaffe, Olivia Hallinan and Holliday Grainger in Three Sisters
© Annabel Vere

Anya Reiss' new version of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters is a characteristically assured piece of work, beautifully updating this classic from provincial Russia to a British Embassy somewhere geographically undefined but undoubtedly hot, poor and on the fringes of conflict.

It's a fluid and compelling transposition, re-affirming the relevance of Chekhov today with his questions of happiness (can we ever be?), family ties and, perhaps most importantly, displacement and the notion of home.

In a strong cast special mention goes to Holliday Grainger, whose performance as youngest sister Irina is especially impressive. She beautifully captures the spirit of Irina whilst maintaining her sweetness, even as her naivety and innocence give way to cynicism.

Olivia Hallinan puts in a solid performance as older sister (and de facto matriarch) Olga, while as overwrought Masha, Emily Taaffe manages to make the most selfish of the sisters if not likeable, at least forgivable. I also enjoyed Dudley Rogers ageing and very deaf Ferapont and David Carlyle's sweetly sincere Tusenbach.

Anthony Lamble's set is simple but effective, with complementary lighting from Howard Hudson. Lamble should be particularly applauded for his attention to detail in the costume design - older brother Andrey's (Thom Tuck) slightly too big suit, long-term ex-pat Chebutykin's (Michael Garner) rumpled linen suit and each of the girl's defined styles all perfectly capture the sense of each character.

Working on a thrust stage in the Southwark 'Large', director Russell Bolam works to ensure that every seat in the house is a good one. His direction, which feels a little static in the first half – the two main speeches of Paul McGann's Vershinin were both delivered out of my eyeline – becomes much more fluid in the faster moving second half.

All round a deeply moving retelling suitable as much for Chekhov newbies as for seasoned afficianados.