A new version of Chekov’s play The Three Sisters, re-imagined during the Troubles, might cause even the most avid of theatre-goers to balk. Re-workings of The Three Sisters are nothing new. But in taking up the challenge, the Northern Ireland novelist and playwright Lucy Caldwell sets the production in the 1990s – the time of the ceasefires and the lead up to the Good Friday peace agreement. What emerges is a compelling comment on a society still in stasis now.

The playwright and novelist Michael Frayn has written that, spiritually, the sisters live in ‘exile’. Lucy Caldwell re-imagines the sisters’ dead father as an English Catholic army officer. They socialise with British soldiers, yet have Irish names. In terms of identity, they are in no-man’s land. These nuances fuel their inner turmoil.

Yet the use of colloquial language provided some light relief. The audience laughs when Orla, the sister based on Olga, complains that the weather is freezing cold, or ‘baltic’ in Northern Ireland parlance, and then asks “I wonder what people in the Baltic say when they are cold?”

For many in Britain, the details of the Troubles may be as remote as the Russian revolution. However watching the play performed at The Lyric Theatre in Belfast, it was clear that many of the references to the future, away from the claustrophobia of the play’s present, resonated on a deeper level with the audience.

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