Konchalovsky is not only a legendary film-maker but, on the evidence of his productions now in London, a great theatre director. The two productions of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, are both masterful and rich readings of masterpieces.
The greatest difficulty of seeing these plays – following sur-titles while trying to concentrate adequately on great, subtle and highly nuanced ensemble performances the details of which are constantly rushing past you– grows out of the greatest gift: seeing these plays performed in Russian.
The set design and visual appeal of the productions is very strong and totally apt. Konchalovsky is clearly in love with Chekhov and with every one of his troubled, trapped yet questing characters.
Every performer is also working at all times as part of a community of players. The three sisters are Olga, played by laris Kuznetsova almost as a kind of Giulietta Masina in Fellini’s La Strada; the brilliant and beautiful Yulia Vysotskaya as an erotically charged Masha; and soulful Galina Bob as the young Irinia who journeys convincingly from idealistic romanticism to an almost Jane Austen acceptance of her need to marry.
With filmed interpolations suggest the background of the story as well as the imminent destruction of the world we are observing and the future that is coming, this production manages to be simple and profound at the same time, every member of the company imbued with an almost palpable sense of his or her character.
Alexey Grishin’s Andrei and Natalia Vdovina’s increasingly materialistic, self-serving yet knowing Natalia must also be praised as must Pavel Derevyanko’s Tuzenbakh, Alexander Domogarov’s Tuzenbakh, Vitaly Kishchenko’s Soleny and Vladas Bagdonas’s Chbutykin.
Another major pleasure of this little season in London is seeing so many of the actors take on such different roles and characterizations in the two plays. The atmosphere of both plays is perfectly conveyed and so is the poignant humour that is particularly hard to pin down in Three Sisters. And in their very ordinariness, by the end the characters have risen to the level of tragedy, tragic awareness and a level of quasi-mystical understanding of the human condition.
In their facial expressions and body language these actors place you firmly in the world of fin-de-siècle Russia. A soulful, witty and ultimately heart-rending production, this is about as perfect as theatre gets.
If this is an example of this company’s level of commitment to and detailed understanding of a text that they undertake to perform, it’s enough to make me want fervently, like the three sisters, to go to Moscow – if only to see more work by the Moscow Mossovet State Academic Theatre.
Their time in London is limited. I hope you can get to see them.