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



In my fourth and final blog about sitting in as Observer Director on RashDash’s Three Sisters, I will recount some observations from their work with dramaturg Jude Christian during tech week. On Monday April 30 (the show opened the following Tuesday, but the show was previewed May 3, so these were jam-packed hours), the company began by reading through scenes in the script while Jude helped to break them down textually and in terms of intention. I learn later that the script itself emerged from the company members’ own engagement with Chekhov’s original playtext and their rewriting of certain themes and motifs into their own words. What if Chekhov’s Olga, Masha and Irina were speaking to each other now, and they were Helen, Abbi and Helen? This conflation of character with performer is a constant and productive tension in the script itself.

Image of Rash Dash Three Sisters, Royal Exchange Theatre

While Jude had been working with the company intermittently throughout the process, this final week saw her embed herself in the rehearsal and tech environment. Having now seen the ‘finished’ show, I realize how important this last week was for its development; even between the previews and opening night on the 8th, the piece changed dramatically. While Jude is sometimes billed as an ‘art friend’ by RashDash and/or dramaturg, she is a professional director, and her multi-layered approach to textual analysis and staging makes this varied skillset evident. Dramaturgy is a strange alchemy of invisible labours – some have referred to dramaturgs as midwives, mechanics, or navigators. They are all of these and more – they often sculpt a show’s shape into being. I witness the ways in which Jude asks the right questions of company members (who, we must remember, are authoring and re-authoring this riff on Chekhov’s text). She needles out the truth of the text they’ve created and ultimately helps the performers calibrate moments that behove their intentions. She warns against too many ‘layers of wank paint’ (OK FOR THIS?) in a certain section of dialogue, and the dialogue is edited and reshaped accordingly. She observes, and bears witness to the latent rhythms of a given section, whether that section is nonverbal or richly spoken. At certain points, her suggestions sound quite at home in a more traditionally Chekhovian rehearsal room, as when she invites the performers to ‘invest’ in certain moments. At other points, she provides acerbic comments on the show’s theoretical and cultural underpinnings that attest to her understanding of its experimental credo. She understands and works with the song and movement texts as standalone elements that are in no way subservient to the drawing room ‘scenes’.

This close and rigorous scene work is a wonderful way to finish my time in the RashDash rehearsal room. This show honours the minutiae of everyday women’s lives and the ways in which small choices echo across the cavern of politics:

‘All of this is so small’, Masha cries – to her sisters, but also to the audience and beyond – perhaps – to the heavens.

‘These are our lives, Masha. The only ones we have,’ Olga replies, always practical, and ultimately – she’s got a point.

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

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