On the radio: Three Sisters

I’m not sure that I would have expected to think of a production of Three Sisters as being life-affirming but this radio adaptation (originally broadcast in 2016) by D J Britton, beautifully handled by director Alison Hindell, was exactly that.  That it managed to be so whilst faithfully following the fortunes of the siblings and their shattered dreams is nothing short of remarkable.

Everyone knows the story, or at least they know the repeated wish to move to Moscow from the dreary provincial town in which the Prozorov family dwells.  The sisters (Olga, Masha, Irina) yearn for more.  The brother Andrei shares their intelligence but surrenders to cards, to violin playing and, tragically, to Natasha, the local woman who becomes his wife and who cuckolds him with the head of the local council.  Only Natasha ‘wins’ in any meaningful sense.  Everyone else sees their lives either ended or compromised.  And yet, from observations that dead trees in a forest wave like those who are alive, to a final, almost redemptive cry that the girls will live in the future, there is always hope.  And it’s that fragile hope which can destroy but which can, if nurtured, be the route to some kind of fulfillment.

The cast were excellent.  Leila Crerar seemed to have great fun as Natasha and Robert Pugh held many of the final moments together as his Dr Chebutykin copes with the world by humming a happy tune.  Hattie Morahan, Scarlett Alice Johnson and Flora Spencer-Longhurst were compelling as the sisters; Alex Waldmann rightly infuriating as the wilting Andrei.  The production didn’t put anything in the way of the dialogue and yet was still able to convince you of the setting.  And those words and phrases had the power to make you catch your breath.

This was, overall, an example of the best of radio adaptations of the stage: the kind that can take something you thought you knew only too well, almost to the point of tired parody, and make it feel fresh and alive again.

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