Monday, 27 July 2015

'Three Days In the Country' at the National Theatre

Last week I went to see a preview of 'Three Days In The Country' in the Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre. It's a new version of the Turgenev play by Patrick Marber and it brings a nice comedic sensibility to the play which is otherwise full of broken dreams. So many broken dreams and lost loves that I lost count.

As the title suggests, it's set in a country house in Russia and the action takes place over three days one fateful summer. We meet the three generations of the family that lives there, their friends and neighbours, and their hired help including the maid and the young tutor. There are a lot of intertwined relationships going on and we watch as they develop and fall apart, and we see the history to some of them and can only guess at what happens in the future with others.

The play opens with Natalya, the bored lady of the house who's summoned an old friend of her husband's to the house to amuse her. Rakitin is in love with her and has been since they first met in Moscow years ago with her husband. She falls for Belyaev, the handsome young tutor for her son and so does her ward, Vera. Meanwhile, Belyaev is having fun with Katya, the maid. Already you can see this is destined to be no good for any of them. In a parallel tale, the family doctor Shpigelsky proposes to the household retainer Livaveta while trying to get Vera to agree to marry local neighbour SomebodyOrOther. It all gets terribly confusing and I won't tell you what happens because I don't want to spoil it for you.

The best scene was a double-header between Mark Gatiss as the doctor and Debra Gillet as the retainer in which he asks her to marry him by spelling out his worst habits and making clear what he doesn't want rather than what he wants. It's even better since he hurts his back, can hardly move, and regales his potential bride while crouching on the floor in pain. It really is an excellent scene and great comic performances from them both.

I also liked Amanda Drew as the lady of the house and John Simm as the long-time friend, along with Royce Pierreson as the tutor and Cherrelle Skeete as the maid (though I'm not at all sure why she kept breaking into song). The youngsters brought a lot of life and vitality to the play whereas their elders all seemed a bit angsty.

I was surprised by, and really liked, the sparse staging, a big open stage with a few bits of furniture and a mysterious red door hanging above the stage. The actors are in simple period costumes and the absence of clutter on the stage makes for a very 'clean' stage which transforms from drawing room to barn with a few deft shifts. Around the edges of the stage were chairs for the actors to sit in when not on the stage proper - given the sheer size of the Lyttleton stage then it was ok and they didn't intrude at all but that approach seems to be a bit on-trend at the moment.

The play is still in preview so I'm sure there's scope for tightening it up in a few places. It's light-hearted and tragic by turn and the overall message is don't throw yourself at your son's tutor because it won't turn out how you expect. O no. But, broadly speaking, I liked it so go and see it!

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