Newsnight Review discussed Michael Blakemore's new production of Chekhov's Three Sisters.
(Edited highlights of the panel's review)
I think it's a good production. Christopher Hampton has done a nice version with some nice touches. 'Oopsy daisy', I heard, I don't think that was in the original translation. And 'What a bother', when the wife poisons herself. Kristin Scott Thomas is terrific. And this young kid, Tobias Menzies, who plays the Barron, is wonderful. I found myself saying why Chekhov? I saw Chekhov last summer? I don't know how many times I've seen this. Why Chekhov? Is he really that good? Writers love him, but in the way that you're meant to love Becket. This is sort of done like a Harold Pinter play. One person talks, says one thing, another person says another thing. The other person isn't listening to them. I thought, this is New York. This is the way they talk in Manhattan. I think there's a romantisation of that Chekhov sparseness that I've had enough of.
I don't agree with you at all about Chekhov. Why he works and keeps on working is because his stories are exactly how life is today. The characters become claustrophobic, they lose their initiative and become very tragic. I thought Kristin Scott Thomas was completely wonderful as Marsha in her sad, down-trodden, putting up with that depressing husband. My one complaint I have to say about the depressing husband, James Fleet is that feeling that I just cannot shake from my head of him in the Vicar of Dibbley. There's a wonderful line when he's talking about directing Stephen Fry when he says, he wants him to move side ways from himself. I remembered that. He became more and more the Vicar of Dibley. I did think that Eric Sykes seemed a weird sort of cameo distracting part. But I liked the claustrophobia of the sets. They're all incapable. She was very good, the wife of Andre. She was like a completely modern character. That's why those plays work. It's like Shakespeare in that sense. He gets something extremely humorous.
I was worried that I'd be overwhelmed. It was an opportunity for ticking off some celebrities. I thought that's what I would be overwhelmed with. That it would be there's the guy from Cold Feet acting with the girl from the English Patient. I thought Eric Sykes was extraordinary when you see what he's playing, someone who's deaf so you weren't sure if he was deaf or if he was playing the part. It was also funny about the New York thing, about overhearing people. It started to become magnificent when it became - it was almost a play about what people did before television, what they talked about, how they passed the time. It was being interpreted. There was a moment because the thing is so much about nothing, it's not necessarily plot, but conversation and pauses, that it became like some kind of strange, prediction of Sienfield. You have all these characters on stage talking about nothing. Everybody performed exceptionally. The way it was staged, note perfect to the extent you realise sometimes when you go to the theatre, how disappointing it can be. When it works, it transcends the fact that it might be dying out. Became better than a television show, which I never thought I'd hear myself say.
And Kristin Scott Thomas, it's not as startling as seeing Nicole Kidman on stage; I mean in terms of the stretch, it's not a surprise to see her on stage.
She seems to work incredibly naturally on the stage. I think she's the best thing in it, but she doesn't dominate it in a way that reduces everybody else, which is very clever. She works as a team. Often you go to those celebrity quotes, and actually they're sort of a need to put everybody else down around them.