Three Sisters

2012-8-20

An enjoyable adaptation of Chekhov's play, convincingly re-imagined.

One of the major themes of Three Sisters is nostalgia. The characters are constantly referring to their earlier lives in Moscow, to which they dream of returning one day. In the version currently on stage at the Young Vic, Benedict Andrews has the cast perform a sing-a-long of Smells Like Teen Spirit, thereby hurling an accusation at an audience that may imagine themselves immune to such nostalgic fantasies.

Smells Like Teen Spirit is over twenty years old at this point, but even songs that are just two or three years old can evoke a sense of nostalgia. How can it be the case that something so recent can produce this effect? In a Bergsonian approach to memory, the present is moving forward chronologically, but consists of two actions:

> Our actual existence then, whilst it is unrolled in time, duplicates itself all along with a virtual existence, a mirror-image. Every moment of our life presents two aspects, its actual and virtual, perception on the one side and memory on the other. Each moment of life is split up as and when it is posited. ([2002:147](http://www.continuumbooks.com/books/detail.aspx?BookId=119213))

The present and a memory of the present spawn simultaneously. Thus, an awareness of the present (as in "living in the moment") becomes a kind of remembering. Therefore, there is a sense in which one is always living in the past. The privilege of the present is that it is the realm of action.

In Three Sisters all of the characters (with the exception of Natasha) find action exhausting, whether it is going to work, signing papers or drinking tea. We could explain this in Bergsonian terms by considering that the real action the characters are performing is one of remembering: actualizing images. This is in contrast with Natasha who doesn't put any effort into remembering and is free to get on with chopping down trees, firing servants and changing her outfit every few minutes. The implication is that remembering distant events is a more strenuous process than remembering recent ones. This is especially true if one considers that for Bergson a memory is quite expansive, holding an unbelievable amount of information.

Nostalgia renders the sisters paralyzed and gives the play its bleak and tragic aspect. However Three Sisters is also very funny, and this staging brings out the comedy extremely well. So well in fact, that the sad parts can feel a little forced in comparison. The conclusion is depressing, as one would expect from a Russian play, but couldn't it have been rendered equally as a kind of liberation from the force of nostalgia?

Three Sisters is at the Young Vic until the 3rd of November.


Previous Next