Three Sisters by A. P. Chekhov – National Theatre, Budapest

2011.01.31. 16:06


Róbert Alföldi opened his first season at the National Theatre with a guest performance: Uncle Vanya from the Cluj Hungarian State Theatre, Romania, directed by Andrei Şerban. Since then he wanted to entice this significant artist to stage a production at the main stage in the National Theatre. With English surtitles on 10 February 2011 as part of X-Section.

All Chekhov plays have something in common; they are all "Chekhovian". What does it mean? Three sisters, for example, is sad, funny, farcical, mysterious, absurd and cruel, all at once. The characters are either good tempered or bad tempered, irritable, excitable or passive, but in actual fact they are all the same. Each is quick to see a mote in the other's eye. Like us. They are all blind to their own faults, also like us. They hinder each other and run each other down. They are dependant of all kind of influences, cannot help themselves. The sisters lack the strength to act, the will to simply get on the train to go to Moscow. After all, they are not that poor, they can afford a ticket. But they cannot govern themselves. They try to help each other, but cannot even help themselves. They all have good intentions to be better, but they cannot be. They dream of changing their lives, but they waste their energy in feeling sorry and being full of regrets afterwards.  

As a doctor, Chekhov accumulated a vast amount of impressions to do with human life, not only from observations of other people, his patients and friends, but also from inside, from his own being, trying to see and understand himself in all of his characters. And in the same time he remained aloof, somehow distant, never explaining, never giving messages. When Stanislavski or the actors rehearsing for the first time his texts, would ask him what does this or that line mean, he would shrug his shoulders: "I don't know, the meaning is there" "But what's the idea?" "There are no ideas".

Chekhov, like Shakespeare (unlike Brecht), never told us how to think. He catches the characters in the moment, then at the end, they become speakers for the author himself. As a scientist, as a cool doctor, he underlines the cruelty and the bitterness of the relationships. But he also has compassion. Never judging, he feels sorry for his characters. " There are no heroes or villains in any of my plays", he used to say. He feels both irony and sympathy for their aspirations, which are never fulfilled, for the chaos and confusion in which they indulge, for the illusions they fabricate to avoid seeing the truth. In order to avoid suffering they prefer to invent beautiful lies, which they live feverishly and then, inevitably, they come to a stop. Like in Beckett, the action stops and, in that moment of pause, is the realization perhaps of an absolute void. The famous Chekhovian silence is not dreamy, or romantic, but filled with uncomfortable noise. The question about the meaning of life is in the silence.

Rehearsing the play, our task is to find a sense of continuity in what seems always fragmented, discontinued and illogical. How to be fresh? How to act? It is known that Chekhov did not like the falsity of exaggerated sentiment; still he was himself a man of deep feelings. When a character becomes over-emotional, he immediately introduces a comic effect in order to break the emotion. And when the comedy is in danger to become farcical, a surprising emotional truth changes the situation. Often he gives the indication "thru tears".

This is quite confusing for the actors. When present at the rehearsals, seeing an actress begin to cry, he stopped her right away. "Although I wrote thru tears, this is not to be taken literally."

Tears for him meant a way to free oneself from sadness. Meyerhold understood before Stanislavski that with Chekhov tears are not a real emotional state, but simply a physical action. One cannot play emotions, (which end always in artificial sentimentality), but concrete actions. This is why an actor has to be always vigilant and attentive; he has to be in the moment, since, like in life, within one second to the next, or from a phrase to the following, there is a change. Everything changes with the speed of lightning. One cannot make distinctions: this moment is sad, or this line is funny. A very funny moment can cover up a deep sadness and vice versa. The most difficult challenge for us in rehearsal was to become aware of these fluid and surprising transitions of moods. The realistic acting method is not enough. Also the realistic setting does not help. That's why we eliminated the naturalism of the pretended Prozorov household. Instead of furniture and fake "Russian" atmosphere, (or updating in the fashion of today's concept) we went the opposite way and left the stage as empty as possible, in order to search for a glimpse of naked human contact, in the hope that a true vibration of real life will resonate. 

(Andrei Şerban)

Premiere: 24 September 2010


ANDREY PROZOROV: István Znamenák

NATASHA, his fiancée, later his wife: Piroska Mészáros

OLGA: Dorottya Udvaros

MASHA: Judit Schell

IRINA: Bori Péterfy

KULIGIN, Masha's husband, a high-school teacher: János Kulka

VERSHININ, colonel, battery commander: Róbert Alföldi


SOLYONY, captain: Tamás Szabó Kimmel

CHEBUTYKIN, army doctor: László Sinkó

FEDOTIK, second lieutenant: Dávid Szatory

ROHDE, second lieutenant: Tibor Fehér

FERAPONT, janitor at the City Council: Frigyes Hollósi

ANFISA, the Prozorov's eighty-year-old nurse: Mari Nagy

Musical assistant: Zsuzsa Komlósi

Set: Róbert Menczel

Costume: Sándor Daróczi

Dramaturg: Kinga Keszthelyi

Choreography: Krisztián Gergye

Assistant: Daniela Dima, Zsófia Tüű

Directed by Andrei Şerban