I remember working backstage on props at Northenden Players when we staged a production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. I have to admit to taking an immediate dislike to the play as it was longwinded and basically revolved around philosophical deliberation and extensive dialogue and monologues. Having to watch this play time after time during rehearsals, then its week production run, was sleep inducing. However, Rash Dash Theatre’s inventive retelling of Chekhov’s play completely defied all my expectations. Running in the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Studio alongside The Cherry Orchard in the main theatre, Three Sisters delivers originality and drags Chekhov kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It completely blew my mind and left me so astonished, I went to see the it twice. It is hard to describe just how brilliant this play is, but I will attempt it here.
Rash Dash’s Three Sisters is a thoroughly modernist retelling of Chekhov’s play and is a wonderfully refreshing blend of live music, expressionist dance, dialogue and beautifully constructed tableaus. It matched the Studio’s intimate surroundings perfectly, feeling more like a gig than a play. Within the first few seconds, the audience is plunged into pitch blackness, accompanied by white noise. With your senses on edge, suddenly a rotating bust of Anton Chekhov is thrown into a spotlight at centre stage before the audience is thrown into darkness again. From the very start, this play is an assault on the senses and on expectations. Three Sisters had me immediately captivated and intrigued, guessing what will happen next. I was not disappointed.
Rash Dash’s masterstroke is to remove all male characters from the play, only leaving the three sisters. Accompanied by two superb musicians, drummer Chloe Rianna and violinist, Yoon-Ji Kim, the three sisters dominate the play, rather than being side-lined, as they are in Chekhov’s play, where the male characters have the majority of the dialogue. This instantly gives the play a feminist feel, and the three sisters are exceptionally rendered by the three actresses. Helen Goalen, Abbi Greenland and Becky Wilkie are phenomenally talented individuals, not only being superb actresses but brilliant singers and musicians. What would be long monologues, philosophising on life, are seamlessly performed as songs.
The songs in this play are superb, with my particular favourites being the ones performed by Masha, Abbi Greenland, who is experiencing heartbreak after separating from her boyfriend. Her voice is sublime as she sings reminiscences of her boyfriend, which are funny as well as sorrowful. The song where she expresses that ‘My friends imagine me with a boy who can hold the room, but all I want is a boy who can hold me’ was beautiful. All of the trio’s songs were brilliant, but it is Masha’s songs that really struck a chord with me.
I have never seen so many costume changes in a play before. Most of the costume changes were in front of the audience, on stage. We were warned of nudity, but it was incorporated well into the play so I didn’t really notice the nudity after a while. All costumes were fantastic, in particular where all 5 members of the production were dressed as different Spice Girls. As soon as you saw Abbi Greenland in Geri’s famous Union Jack dress, it dawns on you that they are dressed as The Spice Girls. I also loved the evening dresses for Irena’s birthday party. They were stunning.
It has been hard to put into words just how great this play was. It completely blew me away. I will definitely watch out for the return of Rash Dash to Manchester!
Since the trio sing a song satirising reviews of Chekhov’s play, I was unsure whether to even review it at all. But since it was so great, I had to!