It’s the vast, deserted Russian countryside, and yet the landowners and their guests can hardly muster the interest to leave the oppressive space of their estate. There is not much to do in the country, but drink and fall in love. As much pain as love can be, it appears the better alternative to succumbing to the boredom and numbness without it. In the centre of it all, the new arrival to the household – young and brooding tutor Belyaev. He causes emotional turmoil for the servants, the middle-aged wife of the landowner Natalya, her young ward Vera, and all their scorned men.
Turgenev’s original “A Month in the Country” would run for four hours, but as the title of Patrick Marber’s adaptation reveals he cut it down to half its length and only “Three Days in the Country”. Marber’s version is snappy and brisk, a poignant portrayal of the human condition that feels modern against its 19th century backdrop. It’s the most hilarious comedy with the most tragic plotline you will ever have the privilege to witness.
The stage design takes a minimalist take on the posh Russian estate. The background is a painted landscape of a wide field and massive clouds whose swirls feel a bit like a Turner painting. A mysterious, highly lit red door hangs threateningly in the air, until it comes down for the second act. Behind this shining door is where temptation and sin lies. At the same time, the walls of the estate seem to close in during the second half. The costumes are absolutely beautiful and add sprinkles of colour into the drab scenery. With its fantastic British cast and one liners that feel positively Wildean, the Russian aspect is brought to life through sung Russian folk song.
Theatre-acting is widely known to be more exaggerated and flamboyant than film acting, but there are truly great actors at play when they manage to still reach the end of the auditorium, but at the same time soften their gestures on stage so much that they express a world of pain and emotion with one look, or a hardly noticeable hesitant step. The cast is excellent, and Mark Gatiss, John Simm and Amanda Drew simply marvellous. Gatiss has the audience roaring with laughter. Simm shines as cynical sidelined love interest and Drew outdoes herself as a truly interesting female character that raises some mental health questions. Natalya is not just your typical ‘hysteric’ woman; she’s plagued by envy, a hatred of aging, a crying need for attention and flattery and an inherent inability to cope with her inner dissatisfaction with her life and marriage.
This play is splendidly articulate in its way of showing how passion inspires everyone to great gestures and tends to result in even greater failures. A must see for anyone who has ever loved.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Three Days in the Country is playing at the National Theatre until 21 October 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets