Stejko’s Sisters Scintillate [by Sharu Delilkan]
To be honest when I was told that I was coming to see an Anton Chekhov play all I could think of was – it's gonna be a long night.
But that dreaded feeling of a laborious theatrical experience disappeared as soon as I entered the waiting room leading to the theatre.
Although it was a few minutes before the doors opened I felt a sense of excitement that wouldn't have been as apparent if we hadn’t been stuffed into the room creating a pressure cooker like atmosphere with people chatting to one another.
As soon as the theatre doors were flung open music was playing in the background and we had the rare opportunity to walk around the stage, which pretty much started at the door, in order to get to our seats.
A man, who could have been dead or alive, lay very still on one of the two benches surrounded by scattered autumn leaves. The fabric draped from the ceiling, representing the three sisters, provided an airy elegance in what becomes an increasingly fraught and resigned environment. It is clear from the get go that set designer Rachel Walker has done her job – we were immediately transported.
Three Sisters, written by the renowned Russian playwright, is the story of the disappointed dreams of the Prosorov family –three sisters Olga, Masha, Irena and their brother, Andrey. It details their struggles to make sense and come to terms with the crumbling world of the privileged they have known all their lives, and to discover how to live in the invading modern world where practicality and the work ethic dominate.
As Director Elena Stejko’s says in her foreword “Three Sisters continues to stay relevant with the universal themes of time, love and unfulfilled dreams.”
Performed by three different casts comprising Unitec’s third year acting students, we were treated to the first cast, better known as the Red Cast.
Directing one cast in such a complicated play is a feat but to direct three rotating casts with such passion and precision is nothing short of a miracle. Russian born Stejko’s directorial skills and personal insight come up trumps in this complex play, riddled with twists and turns.
The minimal scene changes, despite the constant change in mood, is cleverly executed by a posse of chattering maids, which reduce in numbers as befitting the inevitable decline and fall of the aristocracy during this era.
A multitude of well-developed characters represent the adventurous, crazy, forlorn, greedy, loyal, optimistic, pathetic, philosophical, spoilt, sullen and tragic.
The use of some purely Russian dialogue in the opening scene is sufficient to intrigue the audience, without alienating them, and aptly sets the tone.
The portrayal of a Russian elite class draws a veil over their supremacy, while the relationship between characters of different class and background is starkly accurate.
The pace of the first half of the show left me breathless at the interval. However, if I had to fault the show at all I must admit that I found the second half dragged a little in comparison.
As one of three sisters myself, I found the contrast between hopes, dreams and ultimate actions, pointedly realistic.
Lighting designer Robert Hunte and his lighting operator Sarah Radford deserve special mention. The intricate timing and excellent lighting palette gives the show added texture, making it an integral part of the production.
On my way out I was lucky to bump into a Russian member of the audience who said she was absolutely moved by the show. To quote her “I was weeping at the end not only because of what was happening in the play but because of the way Elena had managed to create that emotional feeling that I miss about my home country.”
Don’t miss this absolute gem that could easily be dismissed as ‘just another university production’. Stejko’s stamp has made Three Sisters a must-see for Chekov fans. And for those who have yet to see a Chekov production, it’s the perfect place to start.
Unitec presents Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters playing at Unitec Theatre Building 6, Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert, until June 11.