Three Sisters

The Birdcage, 133 Franklin Road, Auckland

02/08/2008 - 30/08/2008

Production Details

Following the sell-out success of The Tempest at the Hawke Sea Scout Hall last summer, Auckland’s brave acting ensemble enter The Birdcage from the 2nd to the 30th of August to bring you Chekhov’s beloved domestic epic, Three Sisters. 

Matthew Sunderland will be returning to the stage for Three Sisters which is a perennial favourite for both actors and audiences alike. Sunderland is best known for his portrayal of David Gray in the gripping story about the tragic 24 hours that ripped apart the peaceful town of Aramoana in Out of the Blue. Working alongside Sunderland is Jennifer Ludlam most recently seen in Secondhand Wedding and in the up-and-coming film Apron Strings which will screen at the New Zealand Film Festival, and established actor and comic Brenda Kendall (Angel at my Table).

Joining these accomplished actors are a cast of the brightest theatrical talent in Auckland – including Brooke Williams, who’s most recent work has seen her onstage opposite Elizabeth Hawthorne in ATC’s production of Female of the Species and Trygve Wakenshaw, who shared the leading role with Oliver Driver in Silo Theatre’s production of The Mystery of Irma Vep and featured in The Tempest.

Set in a small town in provincial Russia, 1901. Olga, Masha, Irena and their older brother Andrey are trying desperately to move into the bright and energetic future they imagine in Moscow. When a brilliant army commander arrives in their midst everything is turned inside out…and yet life marches irrevocably onwards…

Chekhov sharpens the knife-edge between comedy and tragedy once again, in what is arguably the best play and prophecy of our times. Laugh, cry, be challenged – don’t miss the play that will transform the way you see the changing world.

Bookings open soon for a limited season this August in the historic, intimate and beautiful Birdcage, just by Auckland’s Victoria Park Market.

It’s time to pay a call on the Prozorov’s.

"As a night out it was a pleasure to be in the company of such welcoming hosts so passionate about taking their audience on a theatrical journey…this is a group worth watching" – Shannon Huse, NZ Herald

"Innovative and exciting theatre…Bravo!" – Nik Smythe, Theatreview

August 2nd – 30th 2008
The Birdcage, 133 Franklin Road, Auckland

Saturdays 3pm, Sundays 6pm, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 7:30pm*
Tickets: $25/ Concessions $18/ Under 18 $15/ Preview and Groups of 8+ $20
Tickets available through TICKETMASTER from July 1st –

Important! Please note the new times of 6pm for this final week (this time differs from previous publications)
Saturdays @ 3pm, Sunday to Wednesday @ 6pm* (no shows Thursday or Friday)

For more information and updates see:

With: Brenda Kendall, Brooke Williams, Frank Brown, Jacob Tamaiparea, Jennifer Ludlam, Laurel Devenie, Madeleine Hyland, Marek Sumich, Matthew Sunderland, Phil Brooks, Tahi Mapp Borren, Tama Jarman, Trygve Wakenshaw and Stephen Ure

Caged Sisters

Review by Frances Edmond 16th Aug 2008

The Birdcage, a bar in a glass-ceilinged conservatory, is the venue for the latest production by the Peripeteia Players: Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. It’s the story of the disappointed dreams of the Prozorov family – Olga (Laurel Devenie), Masha (Madeleine Hyland), Irena (Brooke Williams) and their brother, Andrey (Marek Sumich) – and their struggle to find meaning as they try to come to terms with the decay of the privileged world they have grown up in, and find a way to live in the encroaching modern world where pragmatism and the work ethic will reign supreme.

Chekhov’s mastery of the conversational non-sequitur, as his characters talk past each other, each pursuing their personal obsessions, is unrivalled. All too human, they philosophise with Russian fatalism, as they angst over their lives, revealing the petty snobberies as well as the decent, kindly patronage of the old ways, in contrast to the functional vulgarity and the egalitarianism of the new Russia – represented by Andrey’s appalling wife, Natasha (Tahi Mapp-Borren). With the benefit of hindsight – knowing the cruelties and excesses of the Soviet regime – the prophetic quality in the writing is sobering and impressive. [More


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Humour finds balance with high intensity

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 11th Aug 2008

Written at the dawn of the 20th century, Three Sisters transports us into a Chekhovian world that is strange but instantly recognisable – full of humour, heartbreak and eccentric characters "bursting to philosophise".

The play is an enigma and any attempt to say what it is about must be regarded as provisional. The 14 characters are all complex individuals and each is yearning for a radiant future while struggling with the frustrations and compromises that arise from the mundane business of living. [More]


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Moscow Moscow Moscow

Review by Nik Smythe 07th Aug 2008

The unfolding of the play’s events, spanning about five years over four acts, is centred around the hope of Irena (Brooke Williams) – the youngest and daintiest of the title characters who pines for Moscow – ever finding the fulfilment she craves. While all three sisters enjoy the notion of returning, the talented Williams portrays an exquisite and preciously determined Irena who is beside herself and cannot conceive of a fate worse than never getting back.

Having lived their childhoods in Moscow the family has lived in this distant, unspecified region for over a decade.  Oldest sister Olga, a forthright and stiff-upper-lipped Laurel Devenie, the spinster and matriarch of the family, supports Irena’s aspiration to return.  Madeleine Hyland’s sensual turn as Masha the middle sister is a tour de force and a highlight in a lineup of many strong performances. 

Trygve Wakenshaw’s engagingly pompous Koolyghin, the local teacher with a genuine nerdy passion for trivial academia, and Masha’s husband, has just a trademark touch of the slapstick clown.  The army’s doctor, Ivan Romanych (Jennifer Ludlam), is an old friend of the family’s who always carried a torch for the girls’ long departed mother.  Ludlam’s cross-gender portrayal of the cheeky old goat is easy to suspend disbelief for as he becomes entrenched in an existential crisis through the mounting lies and tragedies surrounding the family.

Emotions and relationships are challenged and confused with the arrival of a military battery assigned to the town.  Most notably the ‘Lovesick Major’ Colonel Vershinin, a hard bitten romantic given to spontaneous philosophising, played by Matthew Sunderland with a compelling blend of humility and arrogance.  He wins the heart of bored Masha, but there’s also more than one soldier vying for the affections of Irena…

Between each act it becomes apparent a lot of time has passed and things have changed.  Some characters appear to change little while others undertake a considerable journey.  Tahi Mapp Borren as Natasha goes from awkward young innocent to venomous two-faced yuppie through her marriage to the only brother, Andrey Sergyeevich.  Marek Sumich has a tragicomic pseudo wit about him as the eccentric Andrey, and I felt sorry for him without quite knowing why.

In the first half Jacob Tamaparea as the romantic Baron Toozenbach comes across as more superficial than the narrative suggests his character to be, but in the final act his mounting desperation rings truer; it seems as if Tamaparea is more at ease expressing anguish than joy, theatrically speaking.  Phil Brooks’ Captain Soliony, both friend and rival to Toozenbach, has an unpredictable menace about him.  The most macho army boy in the story, he has a penchant for absurdly offensive remarks and his amorous advances toward Irena come across as more psychotic than truly lovestruck.

Stephen Ure is an audience favourite as the deaf geriatric Ferapont, decrepit beyond belief but a dedicated Council porter to the last.  Brenda Kendall is also lovably ancient as Anfisa, the sisters’ (and brother’s) former nurse, doing what she can but fearing the worst as her usefulness as a servant dwindles, particularly under the fearsome eye of the increasingly odious Natasha.  Other intriguing subplots too numerous and convoluted to cover here pervade the story, as you might expect in a three hour play with fourteen characters. 

Whoever the location scout was has chosen another unusual yet ideal venue in the Conservatory restaurant in the rear of the famous Birdcage.  With modestly ornate columns (doubling as trees) and a subtly majestic fountain garnishing the brick and tile decor, there’s a nod to the play’s antiquity within the essentially abstract modern style of the piece.

The lighting works very well, albeit the existing lights of the restaurant which effectively illuminate the cast wherever they may roam upon the stage, and are occasionally switched off to provide a sense of, well, darkness.  The glass roof would presumably create a very different kind of lighting during daytime performances, and I would think it will be a challenge for the actors to be heard if it ever rains.

Production is credited to ‘The Company’, which I expect means that along with the directorial input of Daniel Mainwaring and Rachel Nash, each character’s outfit was determined by the actors in the process of defining their roles’ personalities.  Like the set, this has the dual effect of creating an abstract environment which kind of ironically serves to make the work accessible in a way to a wider audience by not being tied down to a specific far away place and long ago time.

Within the discourse of theatre is a virtually infinite array of possible ways to execute any given work.  In reaching for the desired effects companies can run the risk of getting bogged down with affectations and missing any real connection to the work – and with such richly heavy material as Chekhov, the need to realise the heart and clarity of the text is essential to maintaining engagement with the audience. 

To put it another way, the measure of a production’s success is in its ability to create a world that isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of the story’s setting, as long as it contains a completeness and logic unto itself that can be easily recognised by it’s audience, once we’ve been trained in the style of the piece.

Peripeteia succeeds by renouncing any mandate for authenticity of the era and setting of Three Sisters; instead we are confronted with individually conceived characters wearing anachronistic attire, with very few attempts at any specifically Russian vernacular save the amusingly gratuitous stereotypes of Fetodik and Rode’s jocular horseplay on their departure from the town.  There is also some adapted dialogue courtesy, one assumes, of dramaturg Stuart Devenie.  The overall result is a play that is at once clearly about Russia at the turn of the 20th century, yet framed in a more universal context that lends focus to the timeless themes of Chekhov’s master work.

Where next for Peripeteia?  Having cut their teeth with aplomb on Shakespeare and Chekhov, they may now be ready for the task of mounting the long-awaited return of Bruce Mason’s The Pohutukawa Tree to the New Zealand professional stage?  Just an idea. 


Trygve Wakenshaw August 31st, 2008

hey, thanks jonny. closing night (closing afternoon really) was a blast. cheers for coming along. i'll try to get along to your show this week. bye bye.

Jonny Hair August 30th, 2008

What wonderfully talented people you all are.  Have a great closing night!

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