Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Three Sisters – Lietuvos Nacionalinis Dramos Teatras

[seen 30/09/17]

Initially, the most striking aspects of Yana Ross’s new Trys Seserys for the National Theatre of Lithuania were the similarities and differences to Simon Stone’s idiotic version of the same at Theatertreffen this year.

Both are updated to the present day, and to the country where the producing theatre is located. Both end with von Tuzenbach (or his analogue’s) suicide (rather than death in a duel). And both are considerably less than “the full text in translation” – but where Stone’s rewrite managed to be about as long as a full translation, even with half the characters missing, Ross’s keeps almost the full compliment of characters, but looses about an hour and a half of script. The result is that while the story is still moving here, we’re kept such a long way from the characters – meeting each of them only fleetingly – that it is pretty difficult to get too involved in their personal woes. For me, this wasn’t such a huge problem; I mean, we can all remember what each of the three sisters wants, and why Andrei is such a shame generally, etc. What Ross brings to the table to compensate (more than adequately, I’d argue) is the sense of impending military calamity in Lithuania/the Baltic States/Northern Europe.

This Three Sisters is set in a kind of aircraft-hangar-y mess hall for the NATO troops stationed in Lithuania (a very real and present thing). The three sisters are indeed Russians, left behind from ‘Soviet Times’ after Lithuanian independence. The only thing that’s dodged here is that, realistically, the real reason they’d be going back to Moscow would be because Putin had successfully reinvaded and NATO had failed to stop him (see: current military exercises all along the Lithuanian border by Russia’s massive armed forces).

Within this promising comment on the real, actual state of the world right outside the theatre, the story of the play makes complete sense, but – even more so than in Chekhov’s original – seems to matter less. Ross – as per Chekhov – seems to be playing most of it more as bitter comedy than bourgeois tragedy. While the stakes might be life and death for the play’s self-absorbed characters, they are the tragedies that Stalin compared to statistics.

As such, the really moving parts of the production are just as often the footage of Russian and NATO forces firing missiles in the snow; of helicopter gunships and fighter jets flying low over beautiful pine forests. There’s a sense in the production (if not quite yet in reality) of the inexorability of war; of the sheer instability of the current Pax Europa. Against this backdrop, yes, sure, it’s still sad if husbands and wives grow apart, if people don’t fulfil their potential, if people are unfaithful to their partners, if love is unrequited, etc. But, Christ, it doesn’t half put things in a sobering perspective. 

What is perhaps cleverest about Ross’s show is that it really does give back the sense of the trivial and the uselessness that Chekhov always seems to be driving at, but which is often just sentimentalised away in production (particularly in UK). Here we get everything back, the hurt feelings, boo hoo, but also the futility and meaninglessness of the hurt feelings. As a result, while not always directly pleasurable, this is perhaps the most bracing Chekhov I’ve seen in a good long while.

In this, it is the exact reverse of what Stone attempts (and fails, even on his own terms) to deliver. Here instead of smug complacency and childish point-scoring at the expense of the characters is something which gives us both the hilarity of personal tragedies and the seriousness of comic futility.

Director — Yana Ross
Set designer — Simona Biekšaitė
Music by — Yana Ross
Video designer — Algirdas Gradauskas
Light designer — Vilius Vilutis
Cast: Rimantė Valiukaitė, Vitalija Mockevičiūtė, Monika Bičiūnaitė, Marius Repšys, Paulius Tamolė, Dainius Jankauskas, Daumantas Ciunis, Toma Vaškevičiūtė, Tadas Gryn, Miglė Polikevičiūtė, Ramūnas Cicėnas, Vaiva Mainelytė, Valerijus Jevsejevas,

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