Three Days in the Country
by Patrick Marber from a literal translation by Patrick Miles of Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in he Country.
Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX
7.30pm; mats 2.00pm, see website for mats, Tues, Thurs, Sat and Wed Oct 21, 2.15; Sun 2.30pm
(see website. www.nationaltheatre.org.uk)
Runs: 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 29 July.
Rewarding – in the end.
Turgenev’s A Month in the Country has certainly been through the mill with numerous `adaptations’ and a famously lush ballet choreographed in the 1970s by Sir Frederick Ashton starring the extraordinary and unique Lynn Seymour with Anthony Dowell. Dorothy Tutin also made the part of Natalya, the restless, unhappy wife of a rich Russian landowner who falls for her son’s tutor, incomparably her own, also in the Seventies.
Now we have Patrick Marber’s version as adapter and director. Typically, it’s a modernist vision, excising Turgenev’s 19th century Russian romanticism whilst still managing to retain its romance. Indeed, the element is so woven into the narrative the play would hardly exist without it!
But whilst Turgenev’s original seems like a forebear of Chekhov (particularly his later Uncle Vanya) in its unhappy, ill-matched partners – once again it’s a question of unreciprocated love displayed either as damaging tragedy or just as damaging, as farce – Marber’s easy on the ear, shorn version cuts a harder, more satirical edge.
Nowhere is this more true than in Mark Gatiss’s treasurable account of the doctor, Shpigelsky, at once witty, pompous, heartless as well as self-knowing and in his wooing of Debra Gillett’s equally comic, spinsterish Lizaveta, not without pathos. Together, Gatiss and Gillett make his proposal and her response two of the stand-out moments of the evening.
But though Marber’s direction and abstract approach – Mark Thompson’s design gives us an empty stage dominated by large glass panels suggestive of white birches and wooden dacha – leave occasional empty emotional spaces, John Simm’s hopelessly devoted Rakitin to Amanda Drew’s crisp, disappointed Natalya, John Light and Lynn Farleigh as respectively, Natalya’s pre-occupied farmer husband, Arkady and his mother, Anna, provide intense if shortened compensations. One longs for longer exchanges. But all too soon, they’re gone.
Thankfully, Turgenev’s wisdoms and richness remain sufficiently intact. This is so much a generational play about love and passion, regret and ageing vividly brought to life by two newcomers – Royce Pierreson’s Belyaev, the destructive young outsider to whom Natalya is helplessly drawn; and Lily Sacofsky as Vera, Natalya’s ward – caught equally in the web of Natalya’s infatuation for Belyaev and her own.
Arkady, a rich landowner: John Light
Natalya, his wife: Amanda Drew.
Kolya, their son: Tom Burgering/Joshua Gringras/Joel Thomas.
Vera, their ward: Lily Sacofsky.
Anna, Arkady’s mother: Lynn Farleigh.
Lizaveta, Anna’s companion: Debra Gillett.
Rakitin, a friend of the family: John Simm.
Schaaf, a German tutor: Gawn Grainger.
Belyaev, Kolya’s new tutor: Royce Pierreson.
Shpigelsky, a doctor: Mark Gatiss.
Bolshintsov, a rich neighbour: Nigel Betts.
Matvey, a servant: Nicholas Bishop.
Katya, a maidservant: Cherrelle Skeete.
Ensemble: Paige Carter, Mark Extance, Matthew Lloyd Davies, Mateo Oxley, Cassie Raine, Lisa Tramontin.
Director: Patrick Marber.
Designer: Mark Thompson.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound/Music: Adam Cork.
Movement: Polly Bennett.
Music Director: Sam Cable.
Company Voice work: Kate Godfrey, Jeannette Nelson.