Pros: The outstanding cast, led by Mark Gatiss and John Simm, deliver an upbeat version of a classic comedy.
Cons: A largely static production that relies too heavily on the original script.
Three Days in the Country is a revival of Turgenev’s 19th century comedy of manners A Month in the Country. It tells the tale of how the rural, idyllic life of Russian aristocrat Arkady’s (John Light) landowning family is shattered by the arrival of Belyaev (Royce Pierreson), a dashing young tutor from Moscow. During his brief stay, he captures the hearts of not only Arkady’s wife Natalya (Amanda Drew) and her 17-year-old ward Vera (Lily Sacofsky), but also their maidservant Katya (Cherrelie Skeet). We also see how the headstrong Natalya’s affections are also sought after by the rakish Rakitin, a family friend played with gusto and passion by John Simm.
Patrick Marber’s adaptation is scene-for-scene and, at times, word-for-word faithful to the original. Marber’s main innovations have been to both trim the lengthy play and to inject a sense of humour, with period-appropriate witticisms that owe a serious nod to Oscar Wilde. The real comedy comes from the excellent Mark Gatiss in the role of the visiting doctor, distraught by an employee’s inability to remain unwell: “I said I’m here to lance your boils. They got better, he said. How am I to survive if people simply get better?”
The set comprises an earthy floor stretching off into distant fields and sky, with interior spaces marked by large, suspended, translucent plastic panels. A portentous industrial red door hangs vividly over the stage, but when it descends to ground level for the second half, it assumes the function of a place of illicit trysts.
But for all its injected wit, this is a thoroughly traditional, stagey production that takes no risks and breaks no new ground; Turganev would have felt thoroughly at ease with it. The huge stage of the Lyttleton seems unwieldy for such an intimate drama, with characters frequently standing twenty feet apart and bellowing at each other. At times the dialogue drifts from the comical to the maudlin, with sentimental hyperbole tripping uncomfortably between the gag. Many of the joke lines buckle under the weight of their own cleverness. One of the comic highlights, by contrast, is a silent sketch featuring nothing more than three men eating a basket of raspberries.
This is a respectful, classical production that emphasises the social differences between the ruling and the servant classes, a direction that at times swamps the delicate emotional entanglements of Turgenev’s original. The often static direction, in which characters strike a pose and deliver their lines like set pieces, lends it a distinctly old-fashioned air, despite the many humorous asides.
Author: Turganev, adapted by Patrick Marber
Director: Patrick Marber
Producer: National Theatre
Booking until: October 21 2015
Box office: 020 7452 3000
Booking link: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/three-days-in-the-country