The three siblings; Olga (Olivia Hallinan), Irina (Holliday Grainger) and Masha (Emily Taaffe) encompass a collection of distinct personalities, which, like a jigsaw puzzle, are disjointed and tattered if not put together. Act 1 sees them at their most hopeful. Olga plays a strong motherly figure that tries to assert order as she does in her full-time teaching role, whilst Irina is the young, dashing and charming face of the house that longs to return to London. Masha, on the other hand, is temperamental. One moment she is indifferent, stubborn, aggressive and then, notably in Act 2, distraught in love and tears – something other than her sisters. She is a complicated character with much to regret, not least marrying her local and faithful Kulygin convincingly played by Tom Ross-Williams.
From the spotlight, one can tell these attractive actresses enjoy playing their inexperienced characters, particularly Taaffe who has a field day with bi-polar and frustrated Masha. She has a clandestine affair with Paul McGann’s character Vershinin, or ‘the sulky soldier’ as she likes to call him. He has a somewhat philosophical presence about him, exclaiming: “the world is full of beauty and intelligence”. It is these words that grab Masha, but unfortunately he cannot predict the future, which turns out far grimmer.
The stern faced, foolishly in love, aspiring professor and brother, Andrey (Thom Tuck) marries socially awkward Natasha (Emily Dobbs) who dupes him and has an unsolicited affair. At the beginning, chavy Natasha is insecure and un-classy, but as the play develops, Dobbs adapts her into a manipulative new member of the family home requesting Olga to move out of her room and that their drunkard party go elsewhere. They carelessly sing Pulp’s ‘Common People’ karaoke style until the early hours, which, alludes to their hope of returning to London away from the reclusive life.
Throughout the play, the audience accumulates a sense of malaise and nihilism for these pitiful characters, particularly Irina, who may never be liberated. Chekhov’s startling story that Reiss re-invigorates, sees twelve characters’ scorn in a secluded modern day space. Bolam impressively expresses how insightful it is to witness drama and anguish take hold of people with little breathing room.
Three Sisters is on at the Southwark Playhouse until 3rd May.