The theatre company that brought Shakespeare to a sea scout hall now brings Chekhov - and some high-profile actors - to the pub. Peripeteia Players stage Chekhov's epic domestic drama Three Sisters at the Birdcage in Freeman's Bay with a cast including established actors Matthew Sunderland, Jennifer Ludlam and Brenda Kendall and emerging talents Madeleine Hyland, Laurel Devenie and Brooke Williams.
It marks a welcome return to the stage for Sunderland, best known for his haunting and nuanced performance as serial killer David Gray in the film Out of the Blue, about the massacre in the South Island coastal settlement of Aramoana.
Sunderland has spent much of the past two years making movies so when he bumped into old friend Hyland, founder of the Peripeteia Players, he told her he was keen to tread the boards again.
"There's a saying that there's no democracy in the theatre but the way Peripeteia works proves that completely wrong and makes the whole process of making theatre more like a journey," says Sunderland.
There is no hint of irony in the fact that democracy and Russian culture have not traditionally gone hand in hand. Nevertheless, democratic is exactly what Peripeteia is - from the way it works to where it performs.
Since its founding in 2006, the company has staged a number of classic pieces but uses techniques more common to modern devised theatre. The cast discuss and decide collaboratively how each scene and character will be played.
Daniel Mainwaring, who directs with Rachel Nash, says he might have hesitated about making his directorial debut with Three Sisters if it wasn't for this process. "That said, I am totally immersed in Chekhov at the moment and must have read this play at least 75 times."
The detailed examination of the text, to find its unspoken truths and hidden meanings, is paying off. On the surface, Three Sisters looks like a domestic drama about the downfall of Russia's privileged classes.
The Prozorov family - three sisters Olga, Masha, Irina and their brother Andrei - have spent a decade living away from their urban Moscow home in a small rural community. They talk constantly about how much more fulfilling life in Moscow was and dream of returning. Andrei is seen by the sisters as weak and his wife, Natasha, as a destructive influence.
But as Hyland points out, like most plays, there is another layer. Chekhov wrote Three Sisters in 1900 (the play was first produced in 1901) when Tsar Nicholas II ruled Russia amid much complaint that he was weak-willed, ineffective and too easily swayed by his wife Alexandra. At that time, the couple had just three daughters.
The venue is critically important, as it has been with the group's previous works, including The Tempest, performed at the Cox's Bay Sea Scout Hall this year. The Birdcage may be "historic and intimate", but at the same time it is a fading beauty with a hint of yesteryear refinement - a perfect setting for a play about a family down on their luck.
What: Three Sisters
Where and when: The Birdcage, 133 Franklin Rd, Aug 2-30; see ticketmaster.co.nz