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Three Brothers
Etcetera Theatre
13th August 2016

★★★☆☆

Publicity photograph for Three Brothers

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Loosely inspired by Chekhov's classic The Cherry Orchard, Three Brothers follows three men trying fruitlessly to save their family estate (a farm and the surrounding land - no cherries, I'm afraid). At only an hour, playwright TL Wiswell has to sacrifice many of the original characters and ideas, focusing on sibling dynamics, including their seemingly unreasonable attachment to a piece of land that none of them really need. You can sense some of Chekhov's bigger themes here, however the link between his work and this does feel quite tenuous and the play feels better served largely ignoring the comparisons and appreciating it on its own merit. Set in relatively modern times in Kansas, it does in some respects feel a whole world apart anyway.

Ernie (Iain Stuart Dootson) is the prodigal brother, returning home to the States to help sort out family matters. Ordinarily he lives in London and although this play doesn't fully explore class issues, we get a definite sense that Ernie feels he's somewhat better than the other two, in particular Dwayne (Jonathan Meyer) with his lack of table manners, failed relationships and poor business sense. The men's mother has finally moved into a care home with no prospect of return, and something has to be done about her property, which to top it off, has recently been damaged in a lightning strike. Dwayne wants to keep things in the family, Ernie wants to realise his inheritance as soon as possible and Clay (Lloyd Morris) wants to sell - but only when the time is right. With no one agreeing, inevitably no action is taken.

The play consists of two acts, set six years apart and it's interesting to observe how little the relationship between all three changes in that time, despite their increasing frustrations with the others. Whilst we never seem the with their mother, it feel as if the Kansas setting makes them all regress into squabbling little boys. Director Preece Killick elicits very believable performances from the whole cast, although with such differing views, you half expect a punch up at some point between the different characters and none ever comes. Witnessing the impact of time on the alpha male of the trio is sobering, with Wiswell using this as well as the issues with the estate to highlight the importance of striking whilst the iron is hot.

References to 9/11 are used to reinforce the date of the first act, but curiously Clay never outright refers to the recession in the second act and you probably expect him to bring up Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or similar when dismissing Ernie's overstated valuations. The calendars do make the date clear though, and it's a nice touch from designer Isobel Pellow that the one in Clay's side of the duplex is branded with the logo for a rifle group, as this seems very fitting with Clay's character.

A few fluffs do take the polish off the production and there is an unfortunate set malfunction, however Morris deals with this with wonderful humour and without breaking character. Props to that man. Three Brother is an enjoyable new play with some good acting. Don't do what Ernie, Dwayne and Clay would do and wander around in circles debating whether to go see this or not, just turn up and do it.

Three Brothers opened on 13th August and runs until 14th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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