JOYCE MCMILLAN on THREE SISTERS at the Tron, Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 6.10.14.
4 stars ****
IF LAST MONTH’S referendum result suggested that the romance of the Union between Scotland and England is not quite dead, then here’s a brilliant, funny and poignant new version of Chekhov’s great 1901 drama that takes us to the heart of that romance, and explores – with a gentle tragi-comic ruthlessness – its impact on the lives of the three sisters at the heart of the story.
Set in a large Victorian house near Dunoon naval base in the early 1960’s, John Byrne’s fine new adaptation conjures up three central characters – Olive, Maddy, and the youngest, Renee – who find themselves exiled from their beloved home city of London when their father is posted north to command a Royal Navy submarine fleet. As the play opens, they are marking the first anniversary of their father’s death, which has left them stranded in what they see as a bleak foreign land, peopled by uncivilised folk.
Their attitudes veer betwen a touching idealism about the possibility of a better future, and a chilling, absolute snobbery that has all three convinced that a fulfilling life is only possible in the metropolis they have left behind; and so it’s perhaps not surprising that Byrne’s text, and Andy Arnold’s pitch-perfect production, extract more fun than any version I can remember from the fraught class politics of the three sisters’ relationship with their low-life sister-in-law Natasha, a classic exponent of flashy nouveau-riche Glasgow style played to comic perfection by Louise McCarthy.
The key to Chekhov, though, lies in the art of giving full weight to both the comedy and the tragedy of the flawed human lives he portrays; and this fine new perspective on Chekhov’s drama is also profoundly moving, as we see these three women – by turns silly, thoughtless, decent, loving, hard-working and heart-broken – gradually facing up to the long litany of loss of which most human lives consist. Andy Clark turns in a splendidly vigorous performance as McShane, the married submarine commander who could have transformed Maddy’s life, in different circumstances; Sylvester McCoy is touching and utterly convincing as the drunken old doctor, MacGiliivery.
And at the centre stand the three sisters, auburn-haired, beautiful, fallible, and, in Renee’s case, faced with a truly life-darkening tragedy. Muireann Kelly, Sally Reid and Jessica Hardwick are three of Sotland’s finest actresses; and they play Chekhov’s great drama with an open-hearted, risk-taking courage he would surely have loved, in a rich, playful and memorable production that Edinburgh should rush to see, when it arrives at the King’s Theatre later this month.