The Standard interviews Holly and her Three Sisters costars on the new play:
They are three of the most famous siblings in theatre – and they’ve now been updated for the 21st century by the award-winning young playwright Anya Reiss.
Holliday Grainger, star of Mike Newell’s Great Expectations and The Borgias, heads a cast also including Paul McGann and Olivia Hallinan, from Lark Rise to Candleford, in a new version of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters that will premiere in London next month.
Instead of languishing a long way from Moscow, the sisters Irina, Olga and Masha now live in the British ex-pat community of an unspecified Middle Eastern country to account for the isolation of the Russian original and the snobbery towards the locals.
And Grainger, 25, who will next shoot the long-awaited film version of Tulip Fever, said it was the lure of Chekhov with the modern twist that has brought her back to theatre for the first time since she appeared at the Donmar five years ago.
“I really love the play and I’ve been wanting to do stage for ages. This is my second or third time auditioning for a version so third time lucky,” she said.
She plays the youngest daughter, Irina, who “is the voice of positivity and youth at the start of the play but at the end she’s almost as cynical and jaded as her sisters – I feel like that is what happens to us all”.
Olivia Hullinan, 29, whose previous roles include the TV adaptation of Julie Burchill’s Sugar Rush, said there was female solidarity in the rehearsal room. “Holliday and I have sort of known each other for years. We have mutual friends and we both started in kids’ television. We really just clicked. And Anya’s such an exciting playwright.”
And Emily Taaffe, 30, said: “It’s good to play parts of young women written by a young woman as opposed to by someone who has no idea what a young woman is.”
It is Reiss’s second venture into Chekhov, after The Seagull, since she was named most promising playwright at the 2010 Evening Standard Theatre Awards for Spur of the Moment.
“I’ve learned a lot about the way to write through having to study the way someone writes so carefully,” she said.
And they had “lucked out” with the cast. “I’m sitting in a room with Paul McGann from Doctor Who and Withnail and I. I don’t know how I’m supposed to work.”
Three Sisters runs at the Southwark Playhouse from April 3 to May 3.