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Cherelle Skeete (Katya) & Royce Pierreson (Belyaev). Photo credit Tristram Kenton.

Three Days In The Country at the Lyttleton, National Theatre This adaptation of A Month in the Country by Turgenev, has been shortened to three days by playwright Patrick Marber, and although it is a very British version of the play, it is a complete delight. Much like the plays of Chekhov, which came forty years later, this is a story of spoiled landed gentry in tsarist Russia, caught up in their own problems while blissfully unaware of the socialist movement which is brewing in Moscow. Natalya, the bored wife of burly estate owner Arkady, is still being wooed after twenty years by Rakitin, her husband’s best friend. She, meanwhile, only has eyes for her son’s handsome new tutor, Belyaev, who has also caught the attention of her young ward (and illegitimate half- sister) Vera. The tutor is thrilled to be working in such a fine house and learning proper manners, such as when to take a lady’s arm, from Natalya. He is gentle and kind to Kolya, his young student, who is ignored by his selfish parents. Meanwhile, the very wealthy but far too old neighbour Bolshintsov, is eager to propose to seventeen year old Vera and has made the local doctor, Shpigelsky, his go-between. Even the servants are having relationship problems as young Matvey finds his engagement to Katya broken off as she too is enamoured of Belyaev. Hearts are broken, 38

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dangerous liaisons occur and secrets are revealed. Or not. Although the plot sounds light hearted, it actually has serious undertones as Belyaev is a man who has risen from a life of poverty, (his father was a fraudster), but through education now has a chance to better himself. Instead of trying to worm his way into this wealthy family, he really wants to join the movement to free the serfs and use his intelligence to help his fellow man. As much as he admires Natalya, he also despises her comfortable wealth and knows he would never ultimately be accepted by her kind. The dialogue is given a very contemporary feel by Marber, without losing the intentions of Turgenev. Some of the best lines go to the doctor, the self-confessed “maestro of misdiagnosis” played with comic brilliance by Mark Gatiss. When he decides to propose to the snuff-taking Lizaveta he gives her a long list of his flaws, not by way of an apology, but as a warning of what to expect when she accepts his hand in marriage. Lizaveta, beautifully played by Debra Gillett, asks if she may take notes and makes it clear that her giving up snuff and alcohol are definitely not options and should be crossed off his list. The scene is made more hilarious as the doctor tries to retain his dignity when his back suddenly goes, hobbling around on all fours. Gatiss provides the perfect combination of comedy and tragedy as we see his cynicism hides his despair.

John Simm is wonderful as the equally cynical and lonely Rakitin. He has been hanging for seven years on a promising moment of passion with Natalya, who strings him along with professions of fondness and love, while she only desires his friendship. He is magnificent in his frustration and anger at his own inability to stay away from her. Royce Pierreson was strikingly goodlooking, charismatic and interesting, making it believable that three women would be so in love with him, to the point of ruining their lives. Unfortunately, I did not feel the same about the central character of Natalya, as played by Amanda Drew. She played languorous boredom and pent up passion very well but I couldn’t see what was so enticing or even likeable about her that not only her husband, but his best friend and the tutor would be so drawn to her. Perhaps it was this detached and reserved portrayal of Natalya that made the play seem so very English. As a British comedy with a healthy dose of pathos, much in the style of Alan Ayckbourn, it works well and is very entertaining and sharp. As a Russian play of uncontrolled passions and heightened emotions, it is less successful. So, does one take it as Turgenev or Marber? If Three Days in the Country is viewed as Marber inspired by Turgenev, it is a highly enjoyable and a not to be missed evening at the theatre. Box Office: 020 7452 3000

American in Britain Autumn 2015  

The Autumn 2015 issue features theatre reviews of Bend It Like Beckham, McQueen and Three Days In The Country; restaurant reviews of Smith &...

American in Britain Autumn 2015  

The Autumn 2015 issue features theatre reviews of Bend It Like Beckham, McQueen and Three Days In The Country; restaurant reviews of Smith &...

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