RashDash’s Three Sisters is very much After Chekhov. It presents three women named after Chekhov’s Olga, Masha, and Irena – and jerks them into the 21st Century. RashDash ridicules the advice that in order to gain legitimacy and funding they should tackle something from the dramatic canon. They set the tone with one of many extraordinary songs asking ‘why are we always telling your stories?’. They rip apart Chekhov’s original in form and narrative, catapulting it gloriously into the 21st Century. There is enough of Chekhov’s structure that those in the know will recognise the intelligence of their adaptation, but stripped of narrative and male characters, RashDash reflect modern women in their songs and scenes – with far greater accuracy than Chekhov ever did.
Much like Two Man Show, they vocalise so many of today’s uncertainties, insecurities, and expectations. In Three Sisters, they have moved away from the masculine vs feminine debate, and instead we see Masha (Abbi Greenland) navigating heart-break and modern dating, Olga (Helen Goalan) filled with liberal guilt, paralysed by what she can’t do to help and Irena (Becky Wilkie) wanting to make art, but fearing she has nothing to say. They take the outline of characters written by a white man over a century ago, and transform them into representations of 21st Century womenhood and anxiety.
The spoken scenes are full pastiche: speaking in a stilted, faux Chekovian manner but speaking truthfully to insecurities of women today. In contrast to the original, the words they’re saying feel true to the reality of womanhood, rather than being placed in the mouths of female actors by an old white man. At one point, Abbi Greenland’s Masha reminds us that this is all a figment of an old white guy’s imagination. This adaptation makes quite the opposite feel the case: these are not a man’s imagination of women – these are women.
Littered between these scenes are the songs – backed by Chloe Rianna on Drums and Yoon-Ji Kim on Violin and Synth. These are an undeniable highlight – exploring the women’s insecurities with heartbreaking and hilarious accuracy. From ‘I think my friend’s see me with a man who can hold a room […] I just want a man who can hold me’ to ‘I want you to cut the frog skin between your fingers on an old letter from me’ they allow us to see their inner lives behind the curtain of pastiche. Abbi Greenland’s voice is a triumph, never failing to astonish with its range, depth, and sensitivity.
The production design perfectly ties these themes together with constant reminders of the expectations on women. The dangling chandelier, piano and chaise-long hint at the plays origins, but are placed against a backdrop of depictions of female bodies from Botticelli to Nike, boobs and bellies and all. The women start the play dressed in cumbersome toile dresses, but constantly transform: into bodycon dresses, cheerleader outfits and bear costumes. Through these transformations, we see incredible feats of physical strength and agility as they dance, tumble, fight and fall regardless of the restrictions of their clothing.
Irena says, ‘everyone loves art and wants to see themselves reflected in art’ – and this production is certainly well on it’s way to letting women (albeit predominantly white, middle class, able bodied women) see themselves and their thoughts reflected truthfully on stage. This is not a show for people who love narrative, but it is absolutely for those who want to leave glowing from representation and sheer cathartic joy.