Thursday, 31 January 2008

3 Sisters on Hope Street - Liverpool Everyman

Three Sisters on Hope Street by Diane Samuels and Tracy-Ann Oberman
Liverpool Everyman 25th January
– 16th February 2008
Directed by Lindsay Posner

Reviewed by Kate Gorst

Three Sisters on Hope Street was an idea conceived by writers Samuels and Oberman during their time together at university and it is brought to life, fittingly, on Hope Street in the Everyman Theatre. Appropriate, also, is the timing of this debut during the week of Holocaust Memorial Day, as this retelling transports the Russian Prozorov family of Chekhov’s original into the Lasky family living on Hope Street in the wake of the Second World War.

The production holds firm with Chekhov’s ideals of realism, the set in particular is ornate, detailed and life like and far removed from the usual minimalist and symbolic sets seen at the Everyman. The performance of the actors is equally rooted in realism, with moments of comedy, moments of tragedy and an engaging ability to capture the nuances of normal, mundane life. A memorable example of this being the moment at which the action of Act 2 stops for the assembled cast to watch a spinning top given to Rita as a gift.

Stand out performances come from the three female leads Rita (Samantha Robinson), Gertie (Anna Francolini) and May (Suzan Sylvester), who demonstrate a sense of sisterly unity and an optimism, steely determination and despair, respectively. Sylvester’s performance as the sarcastic and unhappily married May is genuinely entertaining and as funny as it is tragic. Philip Voss’ performance as ‘reformed’ alcoholic Nate is also worthy of note. Voss captures the weariness of the character yet also emanates warmth and affection towards the three girls who he views as family.

Ponser’s direction is perfect and the pace of the piece as a whole is superb – the hustle and bustle of family life contrasted sharply with moments of sadness and anguish which are played out slowly and with a clear attention to detail. The opening sounds of the rhythmical metronome set the scene for a play that focuses on the passing of time and the frustration of inaction. In keeping with this, and with Chekhov’s original, Samuels and Oberman do not pull the strands of the stories together neatly and we cannot expect a happy ending for the sisters who long to return to New York from their home on Hope Street.

The whole play is long at around 3¼ hours including interval. Yet the intricacy of the performances and the seamless interweaving of different stories, May’s all consuming love for Vince, Gertie’s selflessness, Arnold’s marriage and gambling problems and Rita’s search for a better life and a sense of where she belongs, make the time drift by quickly as you become absorbed in the Lasky family story and the broader story of the Jewish struggle to find a place in the world after the atrocities of the Hitler’s war against them.

Three Sisters on Hope Street will transfer to Hampstead Theatre in London following it’s final performance in Liverpool in February.

Photos show: Top: Samantha Robinson (Rita) & Anna Francolini (Gertie) Bottom: Company

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