3 Sisters on Hope Street

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

3 Sisters on Hope Street is a re-imagining of Chekhov’s classic play Three Sisters, set amongst the Jewish community in wartime Liverpool and written by playwright Diane Samuels and actor/writer Tracy-Ann Oberman.

Liverpool, 1946. A year after the sudden death of their father, sisters Gertie, May and Rita Lasky share their once grand home on Hope Street with their asthmatic brother Arnold, Auntie Beil (who still keeps her packed suitcase under the spare bed) and an old family friend Dr Nate Weinberg (who claims, hand on heart, to be on the wagon). As the sisters regularly welcome GIs and pilots from the nearby American base, each continues her own search for meaning amidst the shattered remains of their city, in a rapidly changing world.

3 Sisters on Hope Street was first performed at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool in 2008 before transferring to Hampstead Theatre in London.

Anna Karenina (adapt. Edmundson)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Helen Edmundson's adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel, Anna Karenina, is a meditation on the nature of love. It was first performed by Shared Experience at the Theatre Royal, Winchester, on 30 January 1992 at the start of a nationwide tour.

Married to a provincial governor, the punctilious Alexei Karenin, Anna revolts against her life of compromise when she meets the charming officer Count Vronsky. She embarks on a scandalous affair, which completely destroys her family life and brings her to the brink of destruction. Interspersed with Anna’s tragic downfall is the story of Levin, an idealistic landowner striving to find meaning in his life – a character often seen as a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself. Edmundson's adaptation illuminates the story's grand pattern: how the adulterous Anna travels towards disintegration and death, while the young landowner, Levin, travels toward maturity and a sense of wholeness.

Edmundson frames the action of Tolstoy’s novel within an imagined dialogue between Levin and Anna. She brings Anna and Levin together in the opening scene: 'This is my story,' says Anna. 'It seems it is mine too,' replies Levin, and for the remainder of the play scenes are set and emotions summarised through the imaginary exchange of their confidences. The device allows Edmundson to distil the novel down to a carefully curated selection of episodes; she is able to translate almost a thousand pages, and a cast of nearly as many, into an intimate chamber drama.

In an author's note in the published text, Edmundson explains her decision not to cut the Levin strand of the novel, as many adaptations do: 'Without Levin, Anna Karenina is a love story, extraordinary and dark, but essentially a love story. With Levin it becomes something great.'

The Shared Experience production was directed by Nancy Meckler and designed by Lucy Weller. The cast was Annabelle Apsion, Katherine Barker, Tilly Blackwood, Gregory Floy, Max Gold, Richard Hope, Nigel Lindsay and Pooky Quesnel. The production then toured to Cardiff, Oxford, Leeds, Leicester, Taunton, Salisbury, and finally to the Tricycle Theatre, London, where it opened on 10 March 1992.

The play was revived at the Arcola Theatre, London, in 2011 by The Piano Removal Company, directed by Max Webster.

The Bear (after Chekhov)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Elena Popova, a young and attractive widow, has immersed herself in the role of mourning for her once philandering late husband. Luka, her frail and ancient man-servant, tries in vain to snap her out of it. Then Smirnov barges in.

The Bear (after Chekhov) was first produced, with Afterplay, at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, in March 2002.

The Bedbug

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Ivan Varlet is making a class change. As he prepares to marry his bourgeois bride, the former mechanic casts off his socialist acquaintances and re-invents himself as ‘Ivor Violet’. Before he can embark on his new life, however, a fire at the wedding kills all the guests, and sees Ivan trapped in the ice cellar, frozen into a state of cryogenesis. Fifty years later, after the creation of a global socialist state following a world war, Ivan is unfrozen into an unrecognizable Russia. He swears, drinks, smokes and feels in a state that eschews pleasure and emotion. He causes women to lose their senses at the plucking of his guitar, and hospitalises men with his introduction of beer. Before this ‘early mammal’ can cause more social unrest, he is brought to the civic zoo and displayed as a specimen of society’s primitive past, where school children can feed him with cigarettes and alcohol.

A satire on the distrust of authority and the threat of the independent voice to the socialist system, Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1929 original was written at a time of growing disillusion with the Soviet Union. The Bedbug, adapted by Snoo Wilson, was commissioned by the National Theatre as one of six new plays, adaptations or translations for the 1995 BT National Connections, a collection of contemporary plays for young people.

audio The Brothers Karamazov

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Dostoyevsky’s titanic masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov is here adapted into a spellbinding full-cast drama by playwright David Fishelson.

The passionate Karamazov brothers spring to life, led by their rogue of a father, who entertains himself by drinking, womanizing, and pitting his three sons against each other. The men have plenty to fight over, including the alluring Grushenka.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring John de Lancie, Sharon Gless, Arye Gross, Harry Hamlin, Kaitlin Hopkins, Joseph Mascolo, Richard Hoyt Miller, John Randolph, John Rubinstein, Tom Virtue, Ping Wu

Featuring: Brothers: John de Lancie, Sharon Gless, Arye Gross, Harry Hamlin, Kaitlin Hopkins, Joseph Mascolo, Richard Hoyt Miller, John Randolph, John Rubinstein, Tom Virtue, Ping Wu Idiot: Edward Asner, Kate Asner, Angela Bettis, Arye Gross, John Kapelos, Robert Machray, Jon Matthews, Johanna McKay, Paul Mercier, Laurel Moglen, Michael Rivkin, Peggy Roeder, Douglas Weston

audio The Cherry Orchard

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Chekhov’s masterful last play, The Cherry Orchard, is a work of timeless, bittersweet beauty about the fading fortunes of an aristocratic Russian family and their struggle to maintain their status in a changing world. Alternately touching and farcical, this subtle, intelligent play stars the incomparable Marsha Mason. Translated and adapted by Frank Dwyer and Nicholas Saunders.

Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Directed by Rosalind Ayres
Producing Director: Susan Albert Loewenberg
Marsha Mason as Madame Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya
Hector Elizondo as Leonid Andreyevich Gayev
Michael Cristofer as Yermolay Alekseyevich Lopakhin
Jennifer Tilly as Dunyasha (Avdotya Fyodorovna)
Joey Slotnick as Semyon Panteleyevich Yepikhodov
Christy Keefe as Anya Ranyevskaya
Amy Pletz as Varya Ranyevskaya
Jordan Baker as Charlotta Ivanovna
Jeffrey Jones as Boris Borisovich Semyonov-Pischick
Charles Durning as Feers
Tim DeKay as Pyotr Sergeyevich Trofimov
John Chardiet as Passer-By

Sound Effects Artist/Stage Manager: Jane Slater
Assistant Stage Manager: Cary Thompson
Radio Producer: Raymond Guarna
Associate Producer: Susan Raab

The Cherry Orchard (adapt. Murphy)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In Chekhov’s tragicomedy of inertia and loss – perhaps his most popular play – an aristocratic family cling to their sheltered lives in a picturesque estate while the forces of social change beat on the walls outside.

Completely bankrupt, Lyubov Ranyevskaya returns with her daughter Anya from Paris to her childhood home, to the beautiful cherry orchard outside the house and to her grief. The estate is paralysed by debt, but she and her billiard-playing brother refuse to save their finances by having the vast orchard cut down to build holiday cottages. Hopelessly paralysed, incapable of decisive action, they put the estate up for auction, and find their world is brought crashing down by powerful forces rooted deep in history and in the society around them

Chekhov maintained that the play was a cheerful and frivolous comedy, but audiences have found its tragedy irresistible. The comedy is poignant; the tone is ambiguous, both farcical and piercing. While remaining faithful to the original, Tom Murphy’s adaptation reimagines the events of this classic play in a language that resonates with wit, clarity and verve. It was first performed in 2004 at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

video The Cherry Orchard (NT)

National Theatre
Type: Video

Age recommendation: 12+

Recorded through National Theatre Live on 30th June, 2011.

Ranyevskaya returns more or less bankrupt after ten years abroad. Luxuriating in her fading moneyed world and regardless of the increasingly hostile forces outside, she and her brother snub the lucrative scheme of Lopakhin, a peasant turned entrepreneur, to save the family estate. In so doing, they put up their lives to auction and seal the fate of the beloved orchard.

Set at the very start of the twentieth century, Andrew Upton’s new version of Chekhov’s classic captures a poignant moment in Russia's history as the country rolls inexorably towards 1917.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

Dunyasha: Emily Taaffe
Lopakhin: Conleth Hill
Yepihodov: Pip Carter
Anya: Charity Wakefield
Ranyevskaya: Zoe Wanamaker
Varya: Claudie Blakley
Gaev: James Laurenson
Charlotta: Sarah Woodward
Simyonov-Pishchik: Tim McMullan
Yasha: Gerald Kyd
Firs: Kenneth Cranham
Peya Trofimov: Mark Bonnar
A Passer-by: Craige Els
The Station Master: Paul Dodds
Ensemble: Mark Fleischmann
Ensemble: Colin Haigh
Ensemble: Jessica Regan
Ensemble: Tim Samuels
Ensemble: Stephanie Thomas
Ensemble: Joseph Thompson
Ensemble: Rosie Thomson
Ensemble: Ellie Turner

Director: Howard Davies
Author: Andrew Upton
Designer: Bunny Christie
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin
Music: Dominic Muldowney
Sound Designer: Paul Groothuis
Choreographer: Lynne Page

Children of the Sun (Trans. Mulrine)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Maxim Gorky's play Children of the Sun is a Chekhovian family drama, written while its author was briefly imprisoned in Saint Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress during the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905. It was initially banned, but the imperial authorities allowed it to premiere on 24 October 1905 at the Moscow Art Theatre.

This translation by Stephen Mulrine was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2000.

The play's title refers to Russia's privileged intelligentsia, epitomised by Protasov, who is high-minded and idealistic but out of touch with the reality of life, especially for the working classes. The play is set during one of the cholera epidemics of the previous century, but was universally understood to relate to contemporary events, and has come to be seen as a prophetic echo of the coming revolution.

The Drunks

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Nina Raine adapted this satirical play for the RSC as part of their four-year celebration of Russian Theatre. Its original authors, Russian brothers Mikhail and Vyacheslav Durnenkov, have written over thirty plays, both individually and together, and have had their work produced throughout the world.

A provincial town is in search of a hero. A shell-shocked soldier downs vodka on his return from the frontline in Chechnya. As Ilya arrives home from the hell of war, he finds himself beaten up and thrown off a train for being drunk. When he finally makes it home, he discovers his wife has cuckolded him with a new man and is informed of their son’s death. The mayor, the police chief and editor of the local newspaper immediately descend upon him eager to capitalise on his tragic story. Ilya discovers himself locked into an extraordinary power struggle that threatens to tear the town apart. The play owes something of a debt to the work of Nikolai Gogol in its exploration of small-town politics and the avarice of human beings.

The Drunks was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2009.

Following the reforms of Peter the Great at the beginning of the eighteenth century and the subsequent expansion of its secular culture, Russian drama developed rapidly, becoming a popular Russian genre in its own right. Its early development was linked to folk performances and mystery plays, including the Vertep (marionette plays) and Petrushka shows presented in the style of Punch and Judy shows.

Denis Fonvizin (1745–1792) was one of the most prominent eighteenth-century playwrights, producing two satirical plays: The Minor (Недоросль, 1782) and The Brigadier-General (Бригадир, 1792) in which he criticised ignorant Russian landlords and their fascination with French models of education and behavior. His plays were highly praised by his contemporaries for their entertaining qualities and their promotion of virtuous behavior based on the principle of social equality.

A great admirer of Fonvizin’s works was one Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837), whose cycle of plays Little Tragedies (Маленькие трагедии, 1830) and his historical drama Boris Godunov, dealt with different topics than those Fonvizin was concerned with. Pushkin’s work posed a number of philosophical questions about human relationships, religious beliefs and authority.

Aleksandr Griboedov’s 1823 play Woe from Wit (Горе от ума), written in iambic verse and defined by Russian Neoclassical critics as a hybrid form containing elements of social criticism, comedy of manners and tragedy, remains popular today, together with Nikolai Gogol’s satirical play The Government Inspector (Ревизор, 1836) which inspired many famous twentieth-century directors, including Konstantin Stanislavskii, Nikolai Evreinov, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Georgii Tovstonogov and Valerii Fokin, to produce theatrical versions based on the play.

Aleksandr Ostrovsky (1823-1886) remains one of the most beloved of playwrights in Russia. His 1859 play The Thunderstorm (Гроза) is often defined as ethnographical study due to its naturalistic style. In it Ostrovsky describes the life of Russian merchants in the provincial town of Kalinov making full use of the town’s beautiful landscapes, with imagery featuring the river Volga that some critics interpret as a symbol of hope and freedom. The play highlights the effects of modernization on the traditional way of life in the Russian provinces, with the gulf between the town’s natural background and the life of the typical inhabitants starkly portrayed throughout. The conflict between different generations is reinforced by the depiction of a young woman, Katerina, who has an extra-marital affair and rebels against the conservative values of Russian merchants who continue to adhere to the prescriptive norms described in the sixteenth-century book on good housekeeping and social behavior: the Domostroi. Katerina’s suicide at the end of the play highlights the tension between Russian traditional way of life –based on the union of oppressive religion and authoritarian thinking – and new ideas about modern developments and liberal values.

Similar concerns were raised in Anton Chekhov’s plays, first staged between 1898 and 1904 at the Moscow Arts Theatre by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich–Danchenko. Gordon McVay writes that the essential ambiguity embedded in Chekhov’s tragic-comic art “has led some to view him as a wistful, autumnal pessimist, a killer of human hopes, while others perceive him as fundamentally a humorist, ironic, absurdist, or detached”. Chekhov’s play Three Sisters (Три сестры) was awarded the Griboedov Prize in 1902 and was enthusiastically received in St Petersburg and in Moscow, securing both Chekhov’s and the Moscow Art Theatre’s finances, fortune and world fame. It is one of the finest examples of the theatre of mood found in European modernism.

In the Soviet and post-Soviet periods Russian drama became one of the most popular genres, attracting the attention of many interesting and innovative playwrights eager to reassess the legacy of Stanislavsky’s theoretical approaches to acting and directing, including Liudmila Petrushevskaya whose tragic-comic plays apply Chekhov’s ideas about human behaviour and society to new contexts.

Alexandra Smith, Reader in Russian Studies at the University of Edinburgh