Patrick Marber’s adaptation of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country isn’t something I’d
actively plan to see. Not that I’d actively avoid going either, but I always
forget to book the Russian plays. But for a £5 EntryPass ticket, it seemed like
a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
The plot is a relatively simple one; a huge Russian estate
plays host to characters who all want someone they don’t have. A restless wife,
a handsome tutor, an old friend harbouring unrequited love, a young ward and an
old, not-eligible bachelor – obviously, all sorts of romantic hijinks ensue. I’m
not familiar with the original work, and so don’t know how much chopping and
changing Marber has done, but the script is peppered with snappy one-liners and
rolls along at a rollicking pace.
Amanda Drew as Natalya was wonderful; haughty yet passionate
and vulnerable, a woman who knows the effect she has on men, but not the effect
they have on her. Her final scene, when she realises the first man she’s ever
loved never loved her, was heartbreaking. Mark Gatiss as the Doctor Shpigelsky
provided brilliant support, definitely bringing in the loudest laughs, yet also delivering a nuanced performance.
The set though, stuck out. In the final scene, Natalya realises that Belyaev only ever “loved the house”, not her. It seemed a shame that the set was simplistic and
modern, with large Perspex screens suspended above the stage. Although that
certainly helped with the oppressive atmosphere felt by Natalya, I felt that
not having a naturalistic set weakened the production. Despite his socialist
beliefs, Belyaev’s repeatedly declares how comfortable he finds the splendour of
the house. It seemed foolish not to show the opulence, the confining and restrictive
luxury in which Natalya lives, especially when costumes were naturalistic.
It was a fine play. Not one I’d rave about, but one I’m very glad I saw; I admit that that’s not much of a
review, but it’s the truth. If anything, this review should be about the glory of the EntryPass scheme – without it, so many people miss out on shows they’d otherwise forget to book.