Simon Stone’s modernisation of Anton Checkov’s Three Sisters opens Germany’s 53rd annual Theatertreffen as a guest production by Theater Basel at the Berliner Festspiele. Three Sisters has been selected as one of the “ten most notable productions” of the year in the German-language region selected by the jury from 344 productions in 63 cities. The festival is introduced by the director of the Berliner Festspiele, Thomas Oberender, and Culture Minister, Prof. Monika Grütters. They present the festival’s main theme: a “Turn of the Eras.” In this sense Stone’s production perfectly fits into the structure of the Festival.
The first glimpse of the stage is enough to make it apparent just how far Stone has taken the production from Chekov’s original. Gone is the familial estate of the Prozorovs. In its place we see a two-story Swiss vacation home complete with fully functional kitchen, bathroom, and piano. Large, connecting windows on every side of the house allow the audience to observe the inner workings of Family Prozorov from afar. Sitting snugly upon an ever-revolving stage floor no part of the intimacy remains hidden for more than the briefest of moments. What makes this adaptation of Three Sisters so interesting is that even while the main dramatic events are taking place, other parts of the house remain quite alive.
Stone’s characters too stray from their original form. A far cry from a tired old spinster, Olga (Barbara Horvath) has hidden her lesbian lover from the family for years. From the once philosophical Colonel, Alexander (Elias Eilinghoff) we see an Emo-Bad-Boy and airline pilot who steals the heart of the strong spirited Masha (Franziska Hackl). The once childlike Irina (Liliane Amuat) in now a politically active university student. While the original dramatic structure of the piece is retained, the language has also been completely gutted and modernised. With references to Trump, Twitter, Grindr, Global Warming and Kanye West the figures in Stone’s production seem at home and well grounded in 2017. The occasional musical interludes with the works of Beyoncé, Britney Speares, and Rihanna only strengthen this impression.
The piece begins in a happy, yet somewhat chaotic light as friends and family gather at the vacation home in Switzerland in order to celebrate the 20th Birthday of Irina. As the alcohol flows and the house fills the mood begins to turn sour. By the end of the first act we begin to see the cracks in the family picture and the underlying dysfunctions that have caused them. Infidelity, irresponsible gambling, addiction, dishonesty and a willingness to ignore the truth combine together to produce a mix as volatile as a 'Molotov Cocktail'. The resulting explosion shatters at least one marriage, leaves the family’s inheritance squandered and resulting in the suicide of Irina’s on-and-off-again boyfriend, Nikolai (Max Rothbart).
Stone’s direction and the stage design of Lizzie Clachan brilliantly afford the talented cast an opportunity to authentically recreate a lifelike and accurate portrayal of the human experience. According to Stone it is Chekov who, much like Ibsen, developed a perfect structure that allows for such truthfulness. Just as in Chekov’s original production, first performed in 1901, the piece is highly melancholic and even melodramatic. While this melodrama occasionally toes the line of soap opera-like over-dramatisation, Stone’s Three Sisters proves to be a compelling analysis of this tragically dysfunctional family. It is a production that demands to be talked about. With nearly ten straight minutes of applause, Berlin has certainly embraced this reincarnation of sisterhood.