The Lev Dodin production of Three Sisters currently at the Vaudeville Theatre displays Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece at its best – a startlingly realistic portrait of human nature, personal relations and the powerful impact that circumstance has on these.

The play is about three sisters, born in metropolis Moscow and having moved to the provinces as children on the death of their father, are now young women in their twenties, stuck in a small, rural town with little chance of escape. Their oppressive situation is presented in a flatly realistic, almost absurdist way, but, as if often the case with Chekhov, is fused with humour and a passion for life always pushing and trying to spring up beneath the oppressive gloom. It is a virtue of this production and the quality of its acting that Chekhov’s humour, which is sometimes lost, is interwoven strongly into the bleaker elements of the dialogue.

Each of the sisters responds differently to their situation based on their characters. Olga (Irina Tychinina) is the eldest sister, unhappily teaching at a local high school, unmarried, is predominantly resigned to her fate but occasionally dreaming of her time in Moscow. Masha, the middle sister (Ksenia Rappoport) is unhappily married and seeks love and adventure with a local military man. Finally Irina, the youngest, (Ekaterina Tarasova) idealistically longs for a return to Moscow where she imagines having a chance to find love.

The sisters have a feckless brother, who mortgages their house and makes their changes of ever going to Moscow, less and less likely, is part of an entourage of characters, each with a different story, who have a significant impact on the sisters. The subtlety of Chekhov’s characterization of the sisters is superbly brought to life by the Tychinina, Rappoport and Tarasova and the cast as a whole delivers a very convincing performance. The stage setting reinforces the emotional barrenness of their surroundings - despite the physical beauty of the country setting which is often alluded to – what we actually see is an unpainted wooden façade of a house. In contrast to this, there is a constant play of music and song, which, like the humour, is an element of life struggling against the bleakness.
This is a thought-provoking production, masterfully directed by Lev Dodin, and vividly brought to life by the cast of the Maly Drama Theatre, a St. Petersburgh based company.