Three Sisters review – Almeida Theatre

When the world doesn’t seem be working out the way you expect, you can’t beat a bit of Chekhov to put things in perspective.

Anyone of a like mind should consider heading to north London for this delightful new version of Three Sisters by Cordelia Lynn.

The original story of the Prozorov siblings, stuck in a provincial Russian town dreaming of a life in Moscow, is very much intact, but the language – with added swearing and even a TS Eliot quote – sparkles and zings for a 21st century audience.

Director Rebecca Frecknall places her characters carefully around (and sometimes just off) the stage as if pieces in some magnificent chess game.

This play reunites Frecknall with Patsy Ferran, who recently won the best actress Olivier award for their previous project Summer and Smoke.

That play, which also won for best revival, ended up in the West End after starting out at the Almeida. I’d be surprised if Three Sisters didn’t follow the same trajectory.

Ferran is as magnetic as ever as Olga, the eldest of the sisters. It’s a shame she doesn’t get more stage time.

She’s joined by Pearl Chanda as the wonderfully moody Masha, while Ria Zmitrowicz is excellent as the youngest, Irina, who we see start out so full of youth and promise only to see it crushed out of her as the acts progress.

In one of the play’s best scenes, Chanda heartbreakingly portrays Masha’s despair at the departure of Vershinin (Peter McDonald), the married soldier she loves, while her foolish husband Kulygin (Elliott Levey) goofs about in complete denial.

The set is simple but effective. I like to think that the single piano on stage was one of the many that appeared in Summer and Smoke.

My first experience of Chekhov was seeing Three Sisters at the Barbican in the late 1980s with Harriet Walter as Masha. I fell in love then with the dramatist’s unhappy, frustrated world.

This version is every bit as good. It blew my Chekhovian socks off. Forget Moscow. We must go to Islington.

Three Sisters is at the Almeida Theatre until 1 June

Summer and Smoke – Duke of York’s Theatre

You can almost feel the heat. With its stage bathed in orange light, this production of Tennessee Williams’ play – a transfer from the Almeida – brings a welcome blast of “August madness” to a wintery West End.

Summer and Smoke centres on vicar’s daughter Alma (Patsy Ferran) and her complex relationship with doctor John Buchanan (Matthew Needham).

The minimalist staging of Rebecca Frecknall’s production lets the lyricism and emotion shine through. The action takes place within a semi-circle of pianos – their innards revealed as if to reflect Alma’s exposed soul.

The cast is impressive throughout, but it’s Patsy Ferran’s performance that people will be talking about in years to come. I first interviewed Patsy when she won a Critics’ Circle Award for most promising newcomer in 2015. She kicked off my theatrical year in 2018 in Anoushka Warden’s excellent My Mum’s a Twat at the Royal Court.

Here’s she’s unforgettable from the play’s opening moment as Alma finds herself thrashing around in the grip of a panic attack. You can’t take your eyes off her for the next two hours.

I’ve already bought my tickets to see this remarkable talent in Frecknall’s Three Sisters at the Almeida in April. It can’t come soon enough.