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Scarlet Theatre /The Young Vic Studio

Antoni Czechow

The Sisters


Scenografia, kompozycja tekstu, tłumaczenia: Andrzej Sadowski

Muzyka: Nigel Piper

Reżyseria światła: Mark Dymock



Grainne Byrne, Emma Bernard, Helen Anderson, Jan Pearson, Linda Kerr Scott

Premiera: The Young Vic , Londyn'95



“If the rest of the studio's season of experimental theatre is that good, the Young Vic is on to a winner”.

The Times

“The acting of all five is superlative…go and see Scarlet Theatre Company’s The Sisters…it is seriously beautiful”.

What's On

“Excellent ensemble cast...(it) exudes a mesmerising tension with superb, often comic observation


“Visually striking…a mesmerising atmospheric piece”.

The Financial Times

“Chekhov recommended that any artist should ‘stubbornly and fanatically’ make good of both interpretation and instinct. This Company is the very embodiment of his advice”.

The Stage

...striking images and some arresting technique...Nigel Piper's eeire music is superlative...Linda Kerr Scott (Anfisa) is irresistably watchable.


The cheekiest bit of Chekhov you'll see... from the ever inventive Scarlet Theatre.


A perfect gem of production, stylised, innovative and formidably well performed.


Stark and incisive with an Eastern European flavour of absurdity.


Performed with winning charm nad healthy irreverence.


Peppered with wit and staged with economical beauty and invention.


They have the unique ability to conjure a laugh out of the most trite remark through sheer skill of emphasis and timing.


The assembled cast breath life and vitality into the performance, which coupled with the striking set makes for cruelly compelling and mesmerising piece.



Scarlet Theatre is a British Company currently under the direction of Katarzyna Deszcz. Active in Poland’s alternative theatre movements, Deszcz trained in Krakow under Tadeusz Kantor. Her project to integrate actors, design, lights, music, and text as equal players in the stage space reflects Kantor’s teaching and fits well with the Scarlet Theatre’s process of generating material through improvisation and physical characterisation. This work combines the best of both physical theatre and psychological subject matter, employing both abstract gesture and a keen sense of physical clowning in this adaptation of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters.

            The maid, Anfisa (Linda Kerr Scott), sets the stage for the production. Trained in mime, Scott accomplishes what Jacques Loco calls „taking the space”, entering with small quick steps, her body fully directed. Anfisa’s movements resemble the codified gesture of Peking Opera and the angular extensions of Martha Graham. „The play will begin soon, but we must have a theatre!” she announces centerstage. Accompanied by grotesque and sardonic circus music composed by Nigel Piper, Scott proceeds to place chairs on he simple stage. Hanging from a suspended grid are five cone lamps which provide sparse lighting. Upstage center is a set of glass French doors on wheels. Scott meticulously places chairs under the lamps, then exits, holding fast to Anfisa’s quick step rhythm.

            The three sisters enter. Each is stationed under a lamp with a specific gesture that becomes their trademark throughout the play. Olga (GrainneByrne) sits and examines her hands for signs of aging with a measured abstraction. Irina (Hayley Carmichael) stands giggling nervously, breaking into raucous laughter which must be suppressed. Masha (Athena Constantine) paces in a tight circle with heavy, purposeful steps. Anfisa enters and exits furiously patting her chest in anxious attempts to regain  composure. Natasha (Jan Pearson invades this gestural space with her awkward overbearance. Standing to close to Irina, she delivers and repeats the feigned endearment, „Many happy returns, Irina dear”. This artificialline repetition continues as she approaches each sister, highlighting her forced entry into their space. Realizing her lack of physical authority, Natasha suddenly rushes downstage to „rehearse” her lines, cheeks quivering, trying to find an appropriate gesture. Settling on a haughty „cultured” pose to mask her lack of wealth and grace, she holds herself tall and returns to the central lamp.

            The character’s speeches are made from he various lamps, punctuated by Anfisa’s entrances with a food cart and the presentation of visitor’s gifts. The sisters leave their posts only to stand behind the glass doors, their muffled voices divulging private thoughts behind the protection of this screen. Their soliloquies are distillations of Chekhov’s text, using physical gestures to achieve in motion what his dialog provides. The stilness is broken only by unexpected movements Olga’s legs open wide to thrust her torso backwards in surprise; Irina drops suddenly to the floor exclaiming, „Oh, I’m so tired!”

            Without warning the action loops back to Natasha’s first entrance, her line repetitions metonymic of the performance structure itself. Anfisa announces, „The play will begin soon” marking the previous action as a formal rehearsal. In this repetition Deszcz makes a clever and simple reference to Chekhovian stagnation: characters are trapped in domestic scenes which must be repeated, change being possible only through violent rupture of these patterns.

            Violent rupture is indeed what possesses the movement in this second version. When Natasha approaches Irina, she responds by falling to the floor shouting, „I’ve had enough of all this!” What follows is a chaos unheard of on the traditional Chekhov stage. Irina rushes about the space, pushing everyone’s lamps into violent motion while declaring her hatred of such static space. This outburst is quickly checked by Natasha’s trumpeting, „Who’s making all that noise?!!” Silence returns as the lamps keep swinging.

            Natasha demands that Anfisa be released from duty. Anfisa’s response to this forced exile is to spin the doors around herself in wide-eyed panic. The doors become the focal point of all blocking for the next scenes. Aligning themselves on he stage diagonals, the sisters speak to each other through the doors, reflected versions of each other along a closed linear continuum. The doors here are a liminal border, a prison window offering perspective but not escape. They also act a shield harboring the sisters upstage as Natasha forces Anfisa to exit threshold is a physical emblem of exterior to interior space, wherein all the characters are metaphorically trapped.

            The characters at one point address the audience with simultaneous silent monologues, paying a literal „lip service” to the agonised speeches of Chekhov’s drama. Anfisa announces, „The play is over”, as the three sisters suppress hysterical laughter in response to Natasha’s orders. When the Colonel’s death is announced, Iran’s hysteria turns subtly from humour to grief. In a stifled scream of anguish, her body folds in on itself. The action ends with all the characters speaking over each other in response to this tragedy, a final physical representation of Chekhovian characters who speak but fail to listen. As the women exit, light falls on three empty chairs perched centerstage.

            Physical intensity of characterisation is what drives the sisters in his production. Chekhov’s domestic isolation has become an individual entrapment under lamplight, with relative safety found behind glass doors. Deszcz and company’s decision to reduce the text and replace it with abstract gesture allows for the physical literalization of Chekhov’s metaphors without mimetic illustration. The production proves both intensely gripping and a joy to watch, allowing actions to speak louder than playwright’s original words.



...Partytura Sadowskiego wydobywa wewnetrzne obrazy tych pieciu kobiet za pomoca jednego definiujacego je gestu, slowa lub sposobu zachowania, które powtarzane staja sie kluczem. Nie ma wiec tu sekwencyjnosci zdarzen, jest rytm, geometria uczuc, choreografia istnienia, ekstrakt zycia. Wszystko to stwarza osobny rodzaj teatralnej ekspresji, odrebna poetyke teatralna. Katarzyna Deszcz precyzyjnie operuje teatralnym skrótem. Niemal z matematyczna dokladnoscia buduje konstrukcje tego swiata, która nadaje spójnosc i przejrzystosc obrazom. Kazdy gest ma swoje metrum, jest skrótem i uogólnieniem, metafora i elipsa. Rytm wyznaczony miarowym stukaniem krazacej wokól swego swiatla Maszy (Helena Anderson) podporzadkowuje sobie calkowicie reszte tej rzeczywistosci - milczenie przerywane synkopami nerwowego chichotania Iriny (Emma Bernard), wahadlowy, nieznaczny ruch glowy Olgi (Grainne Byrne), dlugo, w skupieniu przygladajacej sie swoim dloniom... To krazenie Maszy staje sie stopniowo wzorem struktury calosci. Wszelkie dzialania zaczynaja wpisywac sie w kolo. Kazdy gest jest podobny, podobne sa dni, lata, powtarzajace sie dekady. Zycie zamyka sie w cyrkularnosci czasu. Muzyka spektaklu zdaje sie krazyc wokól jednego tematu wykorzystujac powtarzalnosc muzycznych refrenów. Drugi akt w naturalny sposób staje sie powtórzeniem pierwszego do momentu, kiedy bunt Iriny poteznie poteznie zachwiej tym swiatem (wspaniala scena z rozkolysanymi lampami). Ale po buncie szybko przychodzi uspokojenie i pogodzenie, bo sa to takze elementarne figury kompozycji. Kiedy czas zatoczy kolejne kolo, Anfisa zamknie final teatralnego obrzedu, a aktorki ze smiechem zaczna opuszczac scene, powstrzyma je Irina swym wahaniem, oczekiwaniem na cos, niemym pytanie o pojedynek Barona. Bo jest jeszcze cos co dopelnia zycie. Smierc. Wdziera sie ze swoja realnoscia w ten zamkniety swiat psychicznej iluzji. Krzyk Iriny rodzi sie juz z nieznosnego, prawie fizycznego bólu. Przeraza nawet aktorki. Bo nie mozna go ujarzmic, powstrzymac, powtórzyc, nie jest z ich rzeczywistosci - wykreowanej, teatralnej. Bo smierci nie mozna powtórzyc. Smierc jest poza rzeczywistoscia. Sama jest realnoscia. Wiele pieknych scen tego przedstawienia zostaje w pamieci: "pojedynek" Olgi i Nataszy, jak próba rozpisana na punktacje gestów; wzruszajace wyznania Maszy zza szklanych drzwi; migotliwosc swiatel w ich szybach, zdradzajacych niewidoczne drzenie Iriny w czasie jej monologu. Sa równiez momenty zabawne, jako ze prawda o ludzkich zmaganiach graniczy czesto z absurdem, tragikomedia lub karykatura. Publicznosc smiesza drobne gesty, powtarzane czynnosci, irracjonalne dialogi. Bawi ja reakcja sióstr na wnoszony przez Anfisa samowar lub wspaniale wejscia Nataszy (Jan Pearson), z jej stalym , dublowanym wyglaszaniem fraz tekstu. Ten prosty zabieg trafnie oddaje jej niesmialosc i zakompleksienie, które pózniej przerodza sie w agresje i okrucienstwo. To trudne przedstawienie dla brytyjskiej publicznosci i trudne dla aktorek. Same przyznaja, ze rzadko im sie zdarza grac wbrew racjonalizmowi gestów, przeciw logice zdarzen, odejsc od tradycyjnej konwencji teatralnej. Musialy sie bardziej uczyc "byc" niz "grac", wyczuwac temperature wzajemnej obecnosci, zaistniec w naturalny sposób w spowolnionym rytmie i ogromnym napieciu, potegowanym przez drgnienie najmniejszego miesnia. Jednoczesnie trzeba bylo calkowicie poddac sie logice innej formy, precyzyjnie wyznaczonym sekwencjom ruchu. Prace nad "The Sisters" aktorki traktowaly jak ryzykowny eksperyment. Ryzykowny, bo sukces mierzy sie tutaj popularnoscia przedstawienia, frekwencja publicznosci. Rzadko niepokoi sie widza, zamiast mu schlebiac... "The Sisters" zdobyly jednak publicznosc i znaczne zainteresowanie krytyków. Oprócz wielu analiz i uwag o szczególnej aurze przedstawienia, powtarzaly sie pytania o mezczyzn ze sztuki Czechowa. Jak mozna by ich okreslic, jakim gestem zdefiniowac...Bo przeciez istnieja oni w tym przedstawieniu. Tak dalece, na ile istnieja dla kobiet. Zamykaja sie w abstrakcji - i nie trzeba ich fizycznej obecnosci by mówic o narodzinach i smierci, milosci i cierpieniu, o stabilizacji lub chocby nadziei na wyjazd do Moskwy. Wiecej jakos nie miesci sie w tym ekstrakcie zycia.

Małgorzata Szum, TEATR