Theatre Review: Three Sisters @ Young Vic

Victoria Rudland
By Victoria Rudland Last edited 70 months ago
Theatre Review: Three Sisters @ Young Vic

It’s never going to be a great night at the theatre when you’re sat beside a drunk who keeps hiccoughing foul odours from the rotting chasm of his gut into the air next to your face. But even without having to endure a vile, stench-emitting ogre in your breathing space, this would have been a wearing evening.

The main problem is one of scale. The Young Vic is quite an intimate theatre. Yet the actors perform as though we were 100 feet from the stage, rather than 10. It is not necessary to roar. Neither is it necessary to continually ring a massive bell so deafening that half the audience cover their ears in actual pain. But let’s put those irritants aside.

Aussie director Benedict Andrews’ unconventional rendering of Chekhov’s tragicomic tale of three educated sisters stuck in a provincial town, searching for meaning in their dreary, privileged existence, definitely emphasises the tragic over the comic. Unless your idea of hilarity is a deaf old man everyone keeps shouting their lines at, you’re in for a pretty bleak time. (To be fair, this DID seem to do it for some of the audience so, y’know, each to their own.)

The sisters – duteous schoolteacher, Olga (Mariah Gale), listless Masha (Vanessa Kirby) and young, idealistic Irina (Gala Gordon) – are too earnest to be very interesting, with one or all of them bursting into sobs every five minutes; though moments when Ab Fab’s Patsy shines through Kirby’s Masha do offer some levity. Emily Barclay too brings some comedy to the proceedings as their brother’s gauche New Zealander wife. As for the all-too-often bellowing men, they seem to blend into one in their army fatigues. But Danny Kirrane as Andrey, a slobbish washout of a young man once full of potential, invests the play with a welcome bit of farce. More of this please.

Johannes Schütz’s set is brutally minimalistic. Overhung by a light box, the stage is made up of grey tables nestled together and, as the characters’ lives and dreams begin to disintegrate, it is dismantled from underneath their feet. It’s a clever device but – honestly? – boys carrying tables in and out the auditorium is quite distracting, really. And to spread it over the entire second half could be seen as a little indulgent.

Andrews has an eye for composition and arranges his cast in intriguing tableaus, but this rather Brechtian production seems uncohesive and episodic. Much is superficial: emotion fails to penetrate the surface, both crying fits and parties erupt out of nowhere, their raucousness, lacking reason and depth, never quite credible. A group rendition of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit is fun, but it doesn’t sit convincingly with the action either side of it. The whole thing is like a dream, a surreal montage of disjointed scenes – we don’t get a sense of a world or of real characters, making this a largely incoherent, alienating, one-dimensional affair.

Three Sisters is on until 3 November at the Young Vic, 66 The Cut, London SE1 8LZ. For tickets, call 020 7922 2922 or book online.

Photo by Simon Annand

Last Updated 22 September 2012


I have to say, I liked it much more than this reviewer. Perhaps one of the reasons for this was because I didn't know the play, so Chekov's gorgeous, melancholic poetry was so fresh for me and I just ate it all up (Do you see that tree? It is dead but ... see that tree? It is dead but it still sways in the wind with the others - yum yum yum). I, too, was initially over-awed by the mahooosive stage, but soon became mesmerised by the characters and the stage wasn't so overwhelming. Each character seemed to be in his or her own specific time period, with costume that matched the era that most suited their personality (so Masha's swinging sixties/It girl glamour rubbed along side Irina's period ball gown and Andrei's chubby chavtastic swortswear), which I found really interesting. The best character, for me, had to be Natasha who was presented as a kind-of Muriel's Wedding reject. I thought her performance was striking, hilarious and ultimately chilling.
My favourite moments were when the director made time stand still: the spinning top everyone freezes to watch, the raucous dinner party stilled to pose for a photograph. I felt the sense of someone in the past, calling to be remembered.

Tom Bolton

I very much disagree about this production. I thought it was a remarkable piece of theatre, very original but concerned with more than just effects. A whole series of performances are impossible to forget. The sisters are riveting: Gala Gordon's awkward, impulsive Irina (first professional show, perfect casting); Mariah Gale as Olga, the weight of being the sensible one killing her; and Vanessa Kirby as a convincingly unpredictable, Masha. Not just them though: Danny Kirrane as Andrey is funny, but I really felt the audience wasn't sure whether it was right to laugh at him - spot on for the character. I've also rarely seen better performances from old hands like Michael Feast and Adrian Schiller. Emily Barclay's Australian Natasha was a brilliant victim turned oppressor. And William Houston is hilarious: Vershinin via Matt Berry.

All this within a staging that's confrontational but extraordinary. The table-moving for example: it would be gimmicky without complete commitment, but applied to the whole of Act 3 it brings a weird, relentless rhythm to the action. There's a great deal more I could talk about, including the no-nonsense translation, but like NATterer above my favourite moment was the scene where everyone on stage stops to watch a spinning top until it finally judders to a halt. I thought that was a remarkable coup de theatre. Directors need to take liberties with Chekhov more often; maybe this show will help them lose their fear of his reputation.


This is one of the best reviews I've ever read, for the worst play I have ever seen. I only wish I'd seen it before I'd booked tickets (or in fact before I went to the play).



The reviewer is being too kind. The worst kind of play indulging in antics and unnecessary noise without any subtlety. Compare this to say the production of Dolls house i.e. not in your face, with emotion, fabulous acting and the sheer expression, and you will see what I mean. The worst part was that this play had so much potential, as it could have been minimalistic allowing each of the actors to bring out their best yet all we get is a shrieking cacophony.