Three Sisters review: Russian drama heads North and gets detached from its fiery source

There is little about these Belfast sisters that bears a resemblance to Chekhov’s original drama

Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival

Lyric Theatre, Belfast


The elegant, poetic spirit of Anton Chekhov is but a distant echo in Lucy Caldwell's new version of Three Sisters, set in a middle class home in pre-ceasefires Belfast. As would be expected, there are parallels to the original plot and dramatis personae – four renamed discontented siblings, an uppity sister-in-law, a romantic charmer, a jovial cuckold, a chinless aristocrat, an elderly family friend and a few soldiers. There ends the comparison.


Production values are high as director Selina Cartmell valiantly attempts to lift the detached tone and slow pace of the script, which substitutes the fascinating complexities of the unhappy Prozorov family for a random collection of uninteresting individuals, drowning in pointless conversation, struggling to make meaningful human connections.

Orla (Julie Maxwell), Marianne (Christine Clare), Erin (Amy Blair) and Andy (Aidan O’Neill) are army brats, out of joint with the place in which they live. They have been plonked in Belfast by their late father, a senior officer whose first anniversary falls on this day. It is also Erin’s 18th birthday, a faux jolly fancy dress affair. Adrift and parentless in an emotional no-man’s land, the women long to escape to more exciting prospects across the Atlantic.

The hovering spectre of the Troubles is given expression by a gaggle of boorish squaddies and a couple of officers – Tim Treloar's charmless Vershinin, with whom Marianne falls mystifyingly in love, and Lewis McKinnon's weedy Baron, who does Erin a favour by not marrying her. There is a nod to the city's immigrant population by the arrival into the family circle of narrator Siu Jing (nicely played by Shin-Fei Chen), a shy girl from the local Chinese take-away, who turns into the sister-in-law from hell.

Dylan Quinn’s slick scene changes reveal a family in a constant state of flux and lighten the deluge of what Chekhov’s Masha described as “nothing but talk the whole day long”. Alex Lowde’s big open-plan set flies in the face of the claustrophobia of the Prozorov household, providing refuge for people put out of their homes in the conflict, while also being a place where its occupants behave badly. Disappointingly, the script is significantly lacking in dramatic moments and the dots between the characters are not joined up.Still, Maxwell gives the most rounded performance of the evening as Orla, a calm voice of reason, alone in accepting her situation and making something of herself.

Until November 12

Jane Coyle

Jane Coyle is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture