Alison Matthews - Observer Mondays Director - gives us an insight into the third week of rehearsals for Three Sisters, directed by RashDash


During these two sessions, I witnessed very different moments in the RashDash process. In Week 3, I watched the company’s ongoing collaboration with filmmaking/photography duo The Other Richards in action across multiple spaces as they shot promotional trailers. While one might assume that the marketing focus of these shoots is far out-shadowed by the meat and potatoes of scene work, I found these trailer shoots to reveal significant aspects of the show’s aesthetic. Trailers are becoming more and more ubiquitous as marketing materials for shows on a range of scales. While they can simply present quick snapshots and video clips from rehearsals/ early tour for future dates, they carry so much more potential as a form.


Without sounding too much like a bewildered grandmother, I’m amazed at what the kids do with Instagram these days. Take Janelle Monáe’s recent video PYNK. Released on all social networking sites including Youtube and Instagram before the album’s launch, this video (complete with labia pantaloons) used a vibrant and viral-worthy visual language to entice viewers towards Monáe’s album as a whole. Beyoncé’s Lemonade, of course, worked in a similar way. Today’s theatre trailer has the potential to capitalise on this thirst for short, punchy and effective visual images (moving or still) set to music or sound, and Three Sisters is an especially perfect fit. The first shoot takes place within the cloistered wooden panels of The Rivals’ restaurant at the Royal Exchange Theatre, all sumptuous upholstery and hunting portraits. The company members and musicians pose in finery echoing the veritas of the paintings behind them, though irony still weasels its way into the frame (where it is welcome).

This first trailer is shot as something between a still image and a moving one; the camera zooms in slowly on the portrait to reveal a spinning top while a violin plays furiously in the background (one of the musicians, recorded in the rehearsal room). One of the Richards (the filmmakers) describes the scene as containing an ‘airlessness’, and I agree; the stale tension of the drawing room creeps in on the ‘sisters’ from outside the shot, just as it does in the show itself.

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In many ways, Three Sisters is the story of three women fighting that airlessness in different ways. The second and third trailers, by contrast, showcase frenzied movement sections (performed by the ‘sisters’ in an industrial lift) and a protest anthem that in some ways encapsulates the entire piece. The movement-led one reveals the physical familiarity and trust shared by the company members - the choreography at turns tender and violent - while the anthemic one highlights the show’s focus on singing together as a means of harnessing power. I can see how making the trailers is both a reflective process (reflecting what the show is thus far to both the filmmakers and the future audience) and a generative one – the trailers crystallise certain visual languages and motifs.

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On my fourth day with RashDash, we were back in the Swan Street rehearsal studio. We warmed up together, and the company then dove into scene and song work for the day. At this middle stage, the performers are still muscling the show out from the inside. Choreography and text both require disciplined intention work. In a video I watch of a previous RashDash-led workshop, one company member refers to always thinking of a ‘movement text’ as having its own logic, one that exists in parallel to the script. I can see that thinking at work here as the performers break movement sections down into parts and fit parts together into dynamic sections. By contrast, the songs’ intentions seem to be easier to access; there is an immediacy to sung emotion. I finish my fourth day watching RashDash by thinking about time. A watched clock never stops, and all time is a watched clock in RashDash’s Three Sisters. The past is so heavy – for these women, for us watching them, for anyone bashing up against a canonical text - but so is the future. Three Sisters begins to suggest that occupying the present moment is all we can do, with moments fraught and joyful, with all of our radical notions and routines.

Three Sisters, By RashDash, After Chekhov runs 3 May - 19 May 2018, Studio

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