In front of a looming birch tree backdrop stands the Prozorov’s family house. Chekhov’s sceneries have always favoured forested expanses, because they can articulate a passing of time and make the lives of the characters inhabiting them seem tiny. “Today it’s warm, we can even have the windows open”, says Olya (Ellie Pullen), early in the first act, “but the birch trees are still not in leaf.” In People’s Theatre’s adaptation of Three Sisters, the birches half-fill a void: a spectacle of stifling confusion and of time’s inertia.
The democratic directorial team of Brian Green, Ann Short and the cast of the play decided to fix Three Sisters in its own period – the beginning of the 20th century. Velvet frocks, long skirts and tight-tied hair for the womens’ costume, and high boots, khaki uniform and three-pieces for the mens’. The wardrobe advisors adorned the actors with an aristocratic crispness. The long garments ebb the autumnal leaves that cover the stage in the final scene. The leaves are pushed and pulled around the stage like a tide of sweeping melancholy, backwards and forwards. They move around the stage underneath the actors, but the lives of Chekhov’s characters simply spin in the wind’s eddies and then return to the ground, settling.
The romantic dynamics are the most convincing. Masha (played outstandingly by Rye Mattick) and Colonel Vershinin’s childishly giddy affair shines through. In an intimate climax, Irina (Geffen Yoeli-Rimmer) shares a final goodbye with Baron Tuzenbach by telling him she does not love him. The Irina-Tuzenbach thread is completed by a psychotic Captain Solyony (Stuart Laider), who, in an earlier scene, aggressively harasses Irina.
Just as the production team intended, the jubilant celebrations of the first scenes at Irina’s birthday are lost in the ambiguous passage of progress. All that remains of the happiness ensued at the Prozorov house are photographs, but the birch tree forest still streaks the horizon.