Three Sisters at the Yard raises important questions about criticism
When I was Studying Theatre (pretentious and ominous capital letters required), I was once roundly castigated for not liking Chekhov’s Three Sisters. This, I was informed, was not an acceptable opinion for an aspiring theatre-person to hold. There are certain things, you see, that we have all universally and uniformly accepted as Good, and to think they are anything else is Incorrect. So then I went back to studying Shakespeare. Uh, anyway…
RashDash do not hold this opinion of Chekhov’s unassailable perfection. Their Three Sisters is Chekhov exploded. Look, there he is, a hollowed-out bust and debris all over the floor. Their deconstruction/reconstruction of Three Sisters in their own image is hard to describe because it revels so gleefully in defying expectation. Whatever canonical standards that deem Chekhov’s works objectively good are tossed out the window in favour of...something else. What seems initially to be a pitch-perfect update of the famed trio of aimless Russian aristocrats veers into song and dance and a touch of performance art. The three sisters themselves—RashDash’s core artistic team Abbi Greenland, Helen Goalen, and Becky Wilkie—shed costumes like snake skins, but these superficial transformations can’t mask the disconnect between themselves and the parts written for them, the parts they’re expected to fill if they want to be taken seriously as artists.
The chaotic sampling of scenes from and references to Chekhov’s play becomes a commentary on the way critics slice and dice these well-known plays, too often refusing to evaluate them as works in their own right, and instead picking them apart for their choicest bits: how did they handle my favourite scene? Did they do that character the way I think they should? Is it all Correct? It’s theatre review as exam marking, and a bit where Greenland reads out reviews of productions of Three Sisters with all the creatives’ names replaced with ‘man’ or ‘woman’ as appropriate is particularly damning.
However, it’s conspicuous, and a shame, that a piece in part about how women are expected to tell stories that they don’t fit into isn’t really able to find a place for the two women of colour in the ensemble. Chloe Rianna and Yoon-Ji Kim both perform fantastic musical solos, but no spoken lines.
In fact, as a nearly-thirty white woman, this show is very much about people like me—an identification that the show seems to count on—and you know, maybe that’s okay. In answer to feeling pushed out of the canon of shows we’re meant to think are universal and important, RashDash have made a show for themselves to fit into. Without leaning on autobiography, it becomes unexpectedly personal through their dance, their music, their understandings of who these 19th-century characters would be now and the things that would concern them.
As a critic, of course, I shrank in my seat when the time came for the critical binaries of good/bad, right/wrong, approval/disapproval to be roundly mocked but it raised an important issue. It’s not only the plays themselves that need reshaping in our own image. We have to reshape criticism and conversation in our own image too, finding a way of doing it that suits who we are and what we want to say. For now—well, at least I don't have to mark the show out of five.
Catch Three Sisters at The Yard until 9th June. Grab your tickets here.
What did you think of Three Sisters? Let us know in the comments below.