Review: Three Sisters

Sylvester McCoy in Three Sisters. Pic: Comp
Sylvester McCoy in Three Sisters. Pic: Comp
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IN relocating the classic Chekhov study of the crisis-afflicted Russian ruling classes to 1960s Scotland, John Byrne presumably wants us to draw all sorts of parallels which require a considerable amount of disbelief to be suspended.

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King’s Theatre

Primarily, we have to believe that three sisters would feel as imprisoned in a big house up the road from relatively modern Glasgow as they would deep in the countryside of pre-revolutionary Russia.

But can a British military family isolated because of the death of their father symbolise the imminent collapse of a social and economic elite, as do the characters of the original? And is there an equivalence in decaying Tsarist Moscow and the swinging London of the Rolling Stones and Carnaby Street? Stretching credibility, too, is the climax where the fiancé of one sister, Fairbairn (Ewan Donald), is shot dead in a duel. Byrne is smart enough to write in a line where brother Archie (Jonathan Watson) asks incredulously how a duel can be fought in 1960s Scotland, but not to the extent of finding a more plausible exit.

But these weaknesses shouldn’t detract from an array of powerful performances, the best of which is Louise McCarthy’s brilliantly brassy Natasha, whose blend of Glesca patois with the marble-mouthed vowels of an insecure woman on the make is played first to comic and then menacing effect. Sylvester McCoy is exuberant as a drunken ship’s doctor, Jessica Hardwick as winsome Renee captures the aching sadness of youthful optimism crushed, and Muireann Kelly conveys eldest sister Olive’s stoic resignation. So too is Watson’s weak and browbeaten Archie frustratingly believable.

The sisters’ unfulfilled desire to return to London represents the yearning for something better over the horizon; Scotland or Russia, 1960s or 1890s, the need for hope to keep up spirits is something upon which most people can agree.

• Run ends Saturday