"The Three Sisters" Review - Edinburgh University Theatre Company

Photo credit: Michael Zwiauer

"The Three Sisters" is a hugely ambitious project for an EUTC lunchtime - with a runtime of over 2 hours, and a stage transforming set, this production bears all the marks of a high budget mainterm.

"The Three Sisters" is a hugely personal show, mostly down to the fact that it's a Chekov. This means that some people will love it, some will hate it, and some will be largely indifferent.

I was somewhere between indifferent, and love. This was because I just felt that this is exactly what Bedlam needs, more quirky theatre. The vast majority of shows are modernly written political pieces or comedies, and this production made a nice change, even if some of the creative decisions didn't sit with me too well.

With a huge cast of 14 to go with a huge show, each of them had a moment to shine. Judith Gottesman in particular shone as Masha, along with Patrick Haworth as Alexander, rounded off by an ensemble that managed to steal the scene every time they were on stage, in particular Evan Bayton's rather silly Ferapont.

All three of the sisters, as well as their brother Andrey played by William Boagey gave extremely convincing performances. As I said, Judith Gottesman shone in particular with her frankly terrifying emotional moments, but Maya Sargent and Erin Bushe were also very entertaining. In fairness, Masha is, in my opinion, the character with the most emotional depth to work with so it is not a surprise that this performance shone.

However, some small things about the show irked me. The main one is an issue of language; it is a Chekov, and thus the language is archaic. This is fine, especially since a mainstream audience won't necessarily understand all of it, but what's really important is that all of the actors understand what they are saying. The same applies to Shakespeare, plays with heavy use on Scots (such as the excellent "Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off", which did not suffer from this problem). The problem, is that I really did not believe that the actors knew the meaning of some of the words they were saying. It truly felt like they had learnt their lines and were saying them, without actually caring what they meant. This did not apply to every actor, but it became quite clear which actors were committed to understanding the plot and their own character, and which actors were not.

In terms of the set, seeing the white stage made a nice change to Bedlam, but beyond being a nice change, I didn't feel it particularly added anything to the production. One interesting use of colour, however, was the sticking of different coloured pieces of card onto the back wall, as the story progressed, in different shapes. I think it was symbolic, but to be honest, I didn't get it. I'm sure there was deep meaning there, and asking around the audience not many seemed to understand the meaning of it, but I'm sure that to some keen eyes audience members it would have been a very subtle deeper meaning to the story.

Some of the staging felt odd - the decision to place the table right on the side of the stage when there are several scenes with 10+ actors around it felt weird, and for Act 1 it certainly could have been centre stage. Additionally, a lot of the time actors appeared to be waiting to say their lines, and not particularly committing to their roles in the background. With that said, this is an extension of the understanding problem that I outlined above, and it was the same culprits that seemed to be completely lost if they weren't saying any words.

Another thing that I didn't like was the use of modern music, in particular the miming instruments from the actors on stage. It was weird. Maybe that was the point. It was funny, anyhow, and if that was intentional then the joke paid off.

"The Three Sisters" was one of the weirdest shows I've ever seen, but that's absolutely fine. When I was watching it, I wasn't convinced that I liked it, but upon closer thought and memory of the play, it will definitely sit in my head as a fond memory of theatre.

Verdict: ★★★½

"The Three Sisters" runs until 30th January at Bedlam Theatre.

Tickets: https://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/events/10188/14910/


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