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Cheat sheet:
Three Sisters

Meet the minds behind the masterpiece

Andrew Upton reveals his modern adaptation of Anton Chekhov's classic, and exactly what Bob Dylan has to do with this classic Russian play.

“Funny and scouring... gives Chekhov's play a modern, Australian feel.”
Limelight Magazine
 
Sydney Theatre Company

Poet of the heart

Artistic Director Andrew Upton on Dylan's lyrics

Very early in Act 1, Masha is humming a song to herself. That song is clearly a folk song, so I did a little bit of research and found how around the time that Chekhov was writing, the trend amongst the culturally sophisticated classes in Russia was to advocate for peasants and folk culture. They would dress in traditional folk costumes and sing the folk songs. Masha is a sophisticated, educated woman, but she is also stranded in the middle of nowhere, so there's a tension for her as to how pleasurable that folk music might be. I knew Kip wanted the play set around the 1970s, so I thought Bob Dylan’s early work as a songwriter fits right inside that time and the bourgeois idea of getting to know the working class. So, my initial attraction was that I loved 'Man of Constant Sorrow', a folk song that Dylan recorded a great version of, and I wondered if perhaps the sisters’ mother used to play it. I imagined Dylan being a part of the fabric of their family life, while also reflecting the way in which they are sophisticated people in a very unsophisticated environment. And that's the tension.

Andrew Upton, former Sydney Theatre Company Artistic Director.

"I'm a-goin' back to Colorado
The place that I've started from
If I'd knowed how bad you'd treat me
Babe, I never would have come."

Bob Dylan, 'Man of Constant Sorrow', Verse 4

Three Sisters
In the hands of Kip Williams and Andrew Upton, Chekhov’s masterpiece is an achingly beautiful, exquisitely layered time-lapse of life passing.

Helping to solve the question of Masha’s folk song in Act 1 was how Dylan first touched down in the script. Then, I knew that I needed to find something for Vershinin and Masha to hook onto, but I didn't know until Act 3 that it would also be Dylan. The more of the play I wrote and the more I dug into it, I realised there was something about the fine line Dylan walks between being sophisticated and unsophisticated, between being naive and incredibly well constructed that could be very potent. I think it’s at its best in his love songs, which are phenomenally vulnerable and endearing, and incredibly witty and ‘cool’ in the Marshall McLuhan sense of the word. That got me to 'Blood on the Tracks', which I think is his great broken heart album. I could imagine that if you met someone across time, as Vershinin and Masha do, and found that they shared a favourite song from the album, then that would immediately become a currency between them. And there are so many beautiful images inside Dylan's love songs on that album that, even if you don’t know it, the words will resonate with you as an audience member and you feel the aptness of the lyrics for Masha and Vershinin.

Read more of Andrew's Q&A at sydneytheatre.com.au.

Meet the youngest sister and the rest of the cast at sydneytheatre.com.au.

Nine interesting facts about Chekhov

Anton Chekhov.