Andrew Upton has taken Chekhov’s masterpiece and given it a modern Australian setting, replacing many of the Russian references with quotations from Shakespeare, Bob Dylan and others.
Chekhov knows how to mix the trivial with the tragic and this production reflects his distinctive style, notwithstanding the tampering.
It’s a frenetic production, with none of the master’s leisurely longueurs and nuances, probably a reflection of the period in which it is set, the Soviet Union some 70 years after the original.
The three sisters of the title – Olga the oldest and a maternal figure (Alison Bell), Masha, with a sharp tongue (Eryn Jean Norvill) and Irina, with unsatisfied longings (Miranda Daughtry) – are left to run their father’s estate after he dies, and one year later, on the anniversary of his death, which happens to be Irina’s name day, the bubble of frustration with their lives bursts.
The guests arrive to celebrate Irina’s name day, and the conversation starts to spin in all directions as the characters try to express their particular concerns and obsessions with a ratatatat delivery.
The supporting cast is terrific and includes Mark Leonard Winter as the bombastic Vershinin, and Nikki Shiels as the domineering Natasha.
The set, by Alice Babidge is minimal, featuring a black screen across the stage which acts as both mirror and see-through glass, with a table in the foreground.
After all the frenetic verbal exchanges, and especially the interactions among the sisters, the play grinds to a halt as the comedy of the earlier scenes darkens and turns black.
Until Dec 16. Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney. $50-$105+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.sydneyoperahouse.com
Reviewed by Irina Dunn