Wow. Normally after I watch a show, I like to come home and jot down a few paragraphs about how it made me feel. I really struggled with Living Record Productions’ show, After Three Sisters, because I was so emotionally moved and enamoured by the piece that I had to sleep on it! All I knew was that it was definitely one of the best pieces of Fringe Theatre I have seen.
They really have created true art with their latest play, performed at The Brockley Jack. One of Chekhov’s best stories is brought into the almost modern day surroundings, as well as carrying on where he left off. And what an innovative triumph it is.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Chekhov’s Three Sisters, it tells the tale of Olga, Masha and Irina and their desire to go back to their home in Moscow. Irina, the youngest, longs to work, Olga is a school teacher and content with her mundane life, and Masha is entangled in a loveless marriage. When Lieutenant Vershinin comes to town, Masha immediately finds in him everything that is missing in her husband, Kulygin and begins an illustrious affair. By the end of the play Irina is engaged to be married to Baron Tuzenbach but when war breaks out, Vershinin and Tuzenbach must leave. The two girls are broken hearted and Olga remains to pick up the pieces.
Neil Smith’s script begins with all three returning to Moscow after Irina tries to take her own life. Shortly after, we travel to London in 2011 where three Russian girls are trying to make their way in the world. As we flit effortlessly between the two time periods, we see how the world for these girls are changing - the upcoming massacre in St Petersburg known as ‘bloody Sunday’ and the London Riots. Smith’s script was sharp, naturalistic and witty enough to give even Chekhov a run for his money! It’s so refreshing to see a well-written script and a clear concept - Smith certainly delivered on that front.
The actors were so sublime, that I simply must mention them all individually!
Let’s start with Violet Patton-Ryder who played the oldest and wisest sister, Olga. This part demands gravitas, and Violet had it by the bucket load. Clarity, presence and delicious emotional depth all made her performance truthful and strong.
Next, Jill Rutland who plays the fiery and temperamental Masha did a wonderful job. A magnetic actress with bags of energy and expression - I found that there were times that I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
The youngest sister, Irina was played by Sarah Cullum who masterfully grasped the delusional and mentally unstable character. I really liked her way of portraying “the baby of the family.” It was an honest and strong performance, particularly at the end when it all comes tumbling down for Irina.
Finally, Luke Barton played the kind and loving Nikolai back in 1905 and in 2011 he performed the part of Jamie - a modern day Vershinin. How marvellous to see such a difference in characters with the subtlest of alterations! Barton conquered both characters with ease and control that had me clutching my heart strings one minute and covering my eyes the next.
I was so impressed by how all four actors seamlessly transferred through time whilst keeping truth and honesty to their characters. Hats off.
What made this production so strong was the sense of ensemble between the actors and the brilliant script they were working with. I must also give a mention to Ross Drury’s direction - simple, honest (there I go, using that word again) and detailed, enabling the audience to get a true sense of these characters even if they haven’t seen Chekhov’s play before. A mention must also be given to Jacob Lucy - the designer of this production. The stylish use of curtains to almost separate the audience from this world was effective and brave.
The only other thing I can say really is to get yourselves down to the Brockley Jack before this stunner of a play closes on 5th November! London Fringe at it’s best!
(c) 2016 Molly Miller