Three Days in the Country*** (National Theatre, Lyttelton)

Posted: July 28, 2015 in Theatre

3 days

After supposedly suffering from a long spell of writers’ block, Patrick Marber has reappeared in true London bus style with three productions in quick succession. First came the Donmar’s revival of Closer, followed by The Red Lion in the Dorfman and now here is his new version of Ivan Turgenev’s comedy of unrequited love, A Month in the Country. With the rural sojourn cut by around four weeks, perhaps we should feel cheated, but Marber is in top form, delivering a script that is concise, witty and modern. And, with a production that is cast to the hilt, surely nothing could go wrong. Unfortunately it could and Marber the director makes a very good attempt at sabotaging the work of Marber the writer. To start with, Mark Thompson’s set – an array of perspex panels in front of a backdrop of a clouded sky and a square, descending red sun that later becomes a door – is truly dreadful and does nothing to complement the play. And then, Marber seats actors not involved in scenes, in varying numbers, on green chairs around the perimeter of the stage; towards the end, all the actors are so seated, standing in turns to deliver their lines. What Marber is aiming to achieve by making a polished production in one of our premier theatres appear like a first read-through in a rehearsal room is one of the evening’s great mysteries. In earlier stages, at least the actors’ movement around the large, empty stage is uninhibited, even if they have to speak to each other from some considerable distance apart and, in one case, make a references to an absent character being “in the billiard room” when, in fact he is sitting in clear view. Amanda Drew is a majestic Natalya, bored with her neglectful husband (John Light), toying with her long-time suitor (John Simm) and competing with her ward (Lily Sacofsky) for the attentions of her son’s new tutor (Royce Pierreson). It is all delightfully played, never more so than in the second act opener in which the family doctor (Mark Gattis – developing into our finest character actor?) makes a hilarious proposal of marriage to an old lady’s snuff-taking companion (Debra Gillett). It says a great deal for the writing and the acting that, ultimately, they are able to triumph over the peculiarities of a very quirky production.

Performance date: 27 July 2015

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