Background to 3 Sisters on Hope Street


Whilst travelling in the back of a cab in late 2005 to see a show in town, actress Tracy-Ann Oberman, a new neighbour recently moved over the road from me, said that she'd been interested for a while in workshopping Chekhov's "Three Sisters" with an all-Jewish company. She felt that the sense of community, poignancy and tendency to melodrama resonated strongly with Jewish life and would bring alive the Chekhov in ways that English productions never did. Tracy was very keen to play the role of Masha.

I found the idea intriguing, went home and re read the play. I realised at once that simply peopling the Chekhov with Jews would not work - the social milieu of the play set in provincial Russia, a military family, haut bourgeois, would have by its very nature excluded Jews. I was convinced that an imaginative leap needed to be made.

A clue lay in the philosophical discussions. Irina talks about the nobility of working and longs to do so. It struck me that these resonated with Zionist ideology in the mid twentieth century, becoming more urgent in the lead up to the establishment of the State of Israel. I often work with modern historical material and it was a fascinating prospect to relocate Chekhov's original to a time half way between when he wrote it at the beginning of the twentieth century and now at the beginning of the twenty first century so that a contemporary audience can get a sweeping perspective on Jewish diaspora experience and the struggle for national identity at a crucial point in its history. So Act 1 is set in 1946 and the following acts run through the following three years climaxing in Act 4 just after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

I grew up in the Jewish community in Liverpool and the experience was like being part of a huge, warm. overbearing family, at once enriching and stultifying (see Arnold's speech in Act 4!) .

This became the setting for the transposition of the Chekhov.

A literal translation of the Chekhov provided by the literary department of the National Theatre for the workshop of the original with an all Jewish company in June 2006 provided the basis for "3 Sisters on Hope Street". The new version is very much a homage to the original, relying closely on the structure and characters, merely lifting the detail across time and place.

Between Oct 2006 and March 2007, I would meet for a couple of hours about once a week with Tracy. We would look at a section of the literal translation of the Chekhov, and discuss it together. After our meetings I would go away to work on my own and write each section of "3 Sisters on Hope Street". A play is always discovered and made in the writing and in my time alone the play took shape and found its coherent voice.

From my perspective, Tracy's co-credit is a generous acknowledgement of her verbal creative contribution as an actress. It was always my job as a writer to write and pull together the script and Tracy did not write a word of the first draft and just made a few written insertions into subsequent drafts.

Acknowledgement must also go to director Lindsay Posner whose notes and input enabled me to refine and develop subsequent drafts with rigour and insight.

By the time rehearsals began in December 2007 for the first production of the play, co-produced by the Liverpool Playhouse/Everyman Theatres and Hampstead Theare, London, Tracy had not been cast as May (the Masha character in the new version) and was not present at rehearsals. I worked closely with the cast and director throughout rehearsals re-writing the final draft for performance.

So thanks must also go to actors Russell Bentley (Tush), Ben Caplan(Arnold Lasky), Anna Francolini (Gertie Lasky), Elliot Levey (Mordy), Daisy Lewis (Debbie), Finbar Lynch (Vince), Gerard Monaco (Solly),Samantha Robinson (Rita Lasky), Suzan Sylvester (May Lasky), Jennie Stoller (Auntie Beil), Philip Voss (Nate).