Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Challenges of complex play are met with mixed success

David Leaveaux, director of Chekov's 'Three Sisters' at the Abbey Theatre, has done a fairly good job with this most difficult of dramatic challenges. All 14 characters interrelate constantly, moving the story forward collectively, changing perceptions of the main themes, and helping towards the central climax -- the confrontation between the sisters and Natasha, whom their brother marries.

The play is an examination of love, and of the sisters' nostalgic longing to be elsewhere. 'Elsewhere' is Moscow, which remains an unrealised wish. Through this long play, we experience their lives to the full.

The production is based on a 1981 Friel version with some verbal shortcomings. There is one outstanding performance -- that of Eamon Morrissey as Dr Chebutykin, the entirely useless army doctor, a classic Chekov creation, who has forgotten his training but has a wonderful grasp on human frailty and a loving sympathy for the sisters, particularly the youngest and most tragic, Irina.

Morrissey understands entirely the Chekov pulse of relationship essential to this playwright. Every nuance of his performance radiates this. Although it is an unforgettable performance, it laid bare shortcomings in the other performances and ultimately the production's failure to meet the director's exacting attempt at true Chekov.

Tom Lawlor is a good and funny Solyony, acrobatic and covertly embittered. Brian Doherty is a rather wooden Baron Tusenbach. Natasha, the shrewish wife of Andrey, is good in this unsympathetic part and Darragh Kelly plays the innocent and long-suffering Kulygin with good command of Chekov's requirements.

Lorcan Cranitch delivers a performance of the new and romantic battery commander, Vershinin, which is carefully studied and delivered. But he is marginal. He lacks the haunting hint of the past and the romantic appeal of a former military colleague of the sisters' father.

Justine Mitchell, Emily Taaffe and Derbhle Crotty wrestle with the three central parts, at times with considerable success, but essentially not giving the kind of coherence that the end of the play demands so that their curtain speech seemed slightly false. That flood of feeling, bringing tears to the eyes, was absent.