‘A philosophical evening, visually astonishing’ - Süddeutsche Zeitung

Drei Schwestern

Susanne Kennedy, Münchner Kammerspiele

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What if time were circular and we were able to repeat every moment of our lives infinitely? For those of us who are not afraid, almost anything is possible in the digital world. This was very different back when Chekhov wrote his Three Sisters. This classic has been staged many times since 1901. The three sisters – Masha, Olga and Irina – dream of swapping the Russian countryside for Moscow, the exciting capital. But with everything around them changing rapidly, their future remains an unfulfilled promise. In her radical adaptation, director Susanne Kennedy frees the sisters from their finite nature. The stage is transformed into a seemingly virtual environment, the actors are interchangeable, and the ability to rewind or fast forward is unlimited. But would people really make different choices without the limitation of time? Or would longing simply repeat endlessly?

background information

‘I find it fascinating how in theatre we have classics that are staged time and again. We therefore have characters who have to experience the same things all the time. In our case they are the 

three sisters’. - Susanne Kennedy

When director Susanne Kennedy (1977) takes a classic text as a basis for a play, she makes it all her own. Whether Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, or, as now, Chekhov’s Drei Schwestern (‘Three Sisters’), the original characters’ lines play only a minor part in her plays. Kennedy is especially interested in the unspoken desires of Hedda, Petra, or in this case the sisters. In her claustrophobic stagings, she magnifies what goes unsaid, and possibly cannot be put into words at all, to frightening proportions. 

In 2005, the British-German Kennedy graduated from her studies in theatre directing in Amsterdam. After this, she worked in the Netherlands for years, among other things for Het Nationale Theater in Den Haag and the ITA-Ensemble in Amsterdam, where she directed her own adaptations of classic stage plays. Together with theatre artists Boogaerdt /VanderSchoot, she also produced installation-performances, including Hideous (Wo)men. From 2014 on, she mainly works in Germany, among others for the Munich Kammerspiele. 

In her work, Kennedy steers clear of psychological realism and consistently aims for abstraction. For instance, Chekhov’s 19th-Century living room might become a white cube. The performers wear rubber masks on their heads and have unchanging blank facial expressions as a result. They sit or stand in this space as if petrified, their voices sounding hollow and mechanical, as if after hundreds of performances the words have lost their sheen. 

Kennedy is specifically interested in this element of repetition here. In Chekhov’s play, the three sisters Masha, Olga, and Irena dream of trading their uneventful lives in the provincial town they live in for the adventure and excitement of the big city in Moscow. However, Russian society is at a turning point, and the sisters are afraid. What if it makes no difference at all? What if they flee and everything stays the same anyway? Are they forever trapped in the moment? 

This last point is particularly relevant to Kennedy’s adaptation. She draws parallels with the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche on what he termed eternal recurrence. Kennedy: ‘One of the questions [Nietzsche] asks in The Gay Science is: What would you do if a demon came to you at night and told you you would have to live this life again, just as it is, in all its details? Would you desperately throw yourself onto the floor and curse the demon? Or would you worship him and answer with an emphatic 'yes'? With a 'yes' to this life as you’re living and welcoming it in the here and now. Being willing to ask this question in itself causes an inner transformation. By asking the three sisters this question, I ask my audience the same. In the end, it’s a question we all have to ask ourselves’.

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Biographies

Susanne Kennedy (1977, Germany) made a name for herself in the Netherlands with a number of plays in which she turned well-known classic texts on their heads. After graduating from her studies in

stage directing at the Amsterdam Academy of Theatre and Dance, she worked for the National Theatre in the Hague. Among other things, she directed radical adaptations of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, Enda Walsh’ The New Electric Ballroom, Elfriede Jelinek’s About Animals, and Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love.

Several of her plays were shortlisted by the jury of the Dutch Theatre Festival. She directed Strindberg’s The Pelican for the Amsterdam Theatre Group and Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant for NTGent. As its intendant, Johan Simons invited her as guest director for the Munich Kammerspiele. Among other things, she there directed the sensational Fegefeuer in Ingolstadt (‘Purgatory in Ingolstadt’) and Warum läuft Herr R. Amok? (‘Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?’), both of which were selected for the Berlin Theatertreffen.

She has mainly worked in Germany since. Her installation-performances were shown at the Ruhrtriennale, for which she collaborated with Dutch theatre directors Suzan Boogaerdt and Bianca van der Schoot. From 2017 on, she has been affiliated with the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin. For the Munich Kammerspiele, she recently directed Die Selbstmord-Schwestern, an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides.

 

The Munich Kammerspiele is one of the largest theatre companies in the German language area. Since its founding in 1912, it is known for its renowned ensemble of actors and directors that produce plays that do not shy from engaging and entering into a dialogue with current affairs. The Munich Kammerspiele is an innovative contemporary international city theatre with a socio-political focus.

The Dutch Johan Simons was its house artistic director from 2010 to 2015. In 2013 and again in 2019, the magazine Theater heute honoured the Munich Kammerspiele as its ‘Theatre of the Year’. In 2015, Matthias Lilienthal started work as artistic director. He invited a diverse group of guest directors, such as Philippe Quesne, Rabih Mroué, Toshiki Okada, Christoph Marthaler, and Susanne Kennedy.

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Credits

direction
Susanne Kennedy
artistic collaboration
Richard Janssen, Rodrik Biersteker
sound design
Richard Janssen
video
Rodrik Biersteker
set
Lena Newton
light
Rainer Casper
costume
Teresa Vergho
dramaturgy
Helena Eckert
cast
Manuela Clarin, Kristin Elsen, Marie Groothof, Eva Löbau, Christian Löber, Benjamin Radjaipour, Sibylle Sailer, Anna Maria Sturm, Walter Hess
production
Münchner Kammerspiele

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