Knuckledown’s latest show, now playing at the Hope Theatre in Islington as part of the Camden Fringe, is a curious beast. Taking as its inspiration the mighty Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, the action (as you might guess) is moved to the pandemic lockdown of 2020.
Sisters Olga (Chloe Metcalfe), Masha (Bryony Davies) and Irina (Chloe Wade) are stuck together in a state-imposed bubble – but instead of yearning for Moscow, they long for the days when they can return to Manchester. This is Chekhov in Coronation Street territory, where the sisters keep themselves going through chat, gardening (Olga), reading (Masha), and playing guitar (Irina).
Just as in the original play, it is Irina’s birthday, her eighteenth. It should be the time she can make her own decisions but is something stopping her?
In Matt Strachan’s production, which he devised with Molly Ward, Natalia Lewis, and Chloe Metcalfe, we are in a garden of the family house, deep in Lancashire. Olga has elected to stay there as she ages, and as the older sister she feels her life has been a disappointment.
Masha, married but bored of her husband, finds fun on her laptop with a secret beau, while Irina navigates the emotions of her teenage years. Every man (unseen) in their life is named Alan, which I can’t help wondering was inspired by the billing of the 1970 film of Three Sisters, which was credited to “The National Theatre of Great Britain and Alan Bates”.
This production also pushes the boundaries of what you expect from a show – there is constant breaking of the fourth wall early on, and even a staged interlude ‘apologising’ for the shortcomings of the original text. It doesn’t always work, but it gives a friendly vibe.
The design (set by Ana Webb-Sanchez, lighting by Mattis Larsen, sound by Kristina Kaplin) gives a sense of a bigger scope than just a three-person play, and although brother Andrey/Alan, Masha’s husband Fyodor/Alan and the pushy Tasha are relegated to invisibility, their character traits are well-portrayed.
Despite the good-natured joshing against Chekhov, Tier Three Sisters does transport a lot of the plot to the modern age: Olga’s frustration as a spinster teacher, Masha’s grumpiness and humour, and Irina’s yearning for a change of scene. What is missing are the soldiers and a sense that life will change for these three.
A lively production with some laughs and a set which highlights the shrinking opportunities of these locked-down siblings, Tier Three Sisters does captures the Northern spirit of resilience and tenacity, but sometimes its tone takes a wander.
Fringe rating: *** (and a half)
You can watch Tier Three Sisters until 15 August at the Hope Theatre, playing at 7pm. Book your tickets here.
Image credit: Danny Kaan