…Sisters @ Gate Theatre, London

cast list
Gemma Brockls
Catherine Dyson
Julia Innocenti
Helen Kilpatrick
Tom Lyall
Melanie Wilson

adapted and directed by
Chris Goode
Its just like an album cover, my friend whispered during the final moments of Chris Goodes improvised adaptation and exploration of Chekhovs Three Sisters, such an apt observation that I felt I had to steal it.

For there was an album cover quality to what we were looking at: five women and one man, all dressed in wispy linens and seated in front of a backdrop of objets-unusual, a school yard water fountain, some hanging baskets, a series of butterflies mounted under glass. The woman at the front stared out at the audience with eyes dark and tear smeared, while at their feet a rabbit a lovely, lolloping rabbit sniffed and twitched and did bunny type things.

The rabbit was a wonderful touch, encompassing the liveness of this venture, rabbits not being known for their capacity to take direction. What Chris Goode and his team of six performers have set out to do is to take this play, this familiar text, with its deep sense of yearning, and twist it around, split it in to pieces, like a DJ sampling from a piece of classical music. In the programme notes, Goode describes the process as playing hide and seek with it; slow-dancing with it. The resulting production is different every night, it takes the notion of theatre as a live art form and runs with it, revels in it.

Naomi Dawson’s eclectic set and the cast’s period costumes allow for numerous different interpretations, so any performer could be any character at any time.

At the start of the show straws were drawn, later on a bottle is spun, and there even appeared to be lines of text written on slips of paper scattered about the place, but at other times the actors seemed to shift characters on a whim, the roles being constantly assigned and reassigned so that sometimes there were three Mashas on stage, sometimes two Natashas. This doubling up leads to echoes bleeding into echoes, the text looping back on itself; it was as if the play was being viewed through a prism, refracted.

Though I may be wrong on this, there did seem to be at least some sort of set structure to the piece, with each act building to a crescendo of words and music. This process created some quite striking moments, some gloriously cacophonous peaks. And, just as with Hard Hearted Hannah Cartoon de Salvos experiment in long-form improvisation the unvoiced act of negotiation, the various looks and nods that pass between performers as the production takes shape, form a key part of the collage.

The nature of a show like this makes it difficult to review in a normal way. This is the part where I would usually write some words about the cast, and while I can say that on the evening I saw it, that it was Helen Kirkpatrick and Tom Lyall who really stood out as seeming to inhabit each character they played, who seemed most at home with the process, this may well all be different on another night in the run.

It wont appeal to everyone (but then, of course, that can be said of absolutely anything). Though its less than ninety minutes long, two people walked out midway through it on the night I saw the show. The main problem for me was that having only ever read the play and not having seen it on stage before, I found myself a little lost at times. This is not, and was not, always a bad thing, indeed the sensation of being lost can at times be thrilling, but sometimes I felt the need for a few more anchors, a few more handles to hold on to. If you know the text better then I suspect the experience will be richer. But, for me, while I was intrigued by much of what I saw, some essential connection was absent.

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