herald

Sunday 21 January 2018

Sisterly love

The 100-year-old words of a Russian doctor can still resonate -- if the director has the right insight, says PJ Nolan

What is it about chekhov? A cocky Ernest Hemingway may have once branded him an 'amateur', but the work of this century-dead Russian doctor consistently ensures his place as the ultimate writers' writer. Still, even his many admirers can sometimes be stumped in defining exactly why his writing still resonates so clearly in our vastly changed, modern world.

Brian Friel, however, fully understands Chekhov -- who has long been a totem for this most eminent Irish playwright. Whether informing his original works, as in Dancing at Lughnasa, or in various inspired interpretations of Chekhov, Friel 'gets' the hopes and humours of these emphatically Russian protagonists, and allows the air and space around these characters to breathe with renewed vigour.

In the Abbey's production of Three Sisters, we have an immaculately interpreted version of the play. Friel's stamp is in the language and context that draw a modern audience to timeless aspects of the challenges faced by the Prozorov family and their intimates. And how familiar are these settings -- love, hope, hostility, sentiment, disappointment, glee, music and privation; all humanity is presented here. Emotions are intimately coaxed from silences and gestures, as much as from the meticulous dialogue itself.

Staging is beautifully austere -- conjuring up the period, yet pleasing to the modern eye. The cast delivers ensemble playing at its best, with the dutiful Olga, wildly elemental Masha and blossoming, hopeful Irina brought to life in clearly delineated emotional shades. Moscow represents their dreams but, as in all lives, there are few certainties here, except that life will -- must -- go on. Throughout, the audience is immersed in rich characterisation and innovative, restrained direction.

What is it about Chekhov? Brian Friel knows. Go, see for yourself.

Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, directed by David Leveaux, The Abbey Theatre, until August 2nd

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