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The Theatreguide.London Review

Three Days In The Country
Lyttelton Theatre  Summer 2015

Your dominant memory of previous productions of Turgenev's A Month In The Country is likely to be of the central plot situation, a bored wife's infatuation with her son's young tutor and its tragicomic repercussions. 

Patrick Marber's new adaptation not only reduces the month to a long weekend but turns that plot line into just one of several misjudged romances, and not always the most central. 

With it sometimes seeming like just about everybody in the large cast of characters is yearning after somebody else, and generally unsuccessfully, the play which Turgenev labelled a comedy but many previous productions have interpreted more seriously begins to feel like a mordant version of Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles Of A Summer Night with its rampant couplings.

(Does Marber's title consciously allude to Sondheim's song 'A Weekend In The Country' from his musical based on of the film?) 

Neglected by the gentleman-farmer husband she doesn't particularly love anyway, Natalya finds herself bored even by her ardent long-time admirer Rakitin, but drawn to the tutor Belyaev. 

But her teenage ward Vera also loves the tutor, while a rich old neighbour is bidding for Vera's hand. Natalya's husband does love her, the local doctor decides that marriage to Vera's governess might not be too unpleasant, the butler loves the maid, and the German tutor flirts with anyone in arm's reach. 

With all that yearning sometimes comic, sometimes pitiable and all that rejection going on, Natalya's romantic crisis sometimes gets lost in the crowd, and this is clearly Marber's, and possibly even Turgenev's intention. The play is less about one woman than about the madness that is love, with equal nods to its agony and its ridiculousness. 

Patrick Marber directs, and it takes him a while to find the tone he's looking for.

The need to introduce so many characters and so many plot lines makes the opening act a bit of a slog, and it really isn't until after the interval that both the real pain of the characters and the inescapable comedy of their situations really hit us and carry the play through a much more successful second act. 

Except for allowing the character occasional moments of conscious posing and self-dramatisation, Amanda Drew plays Natalya straight and seriously, as does John Simm with her official lover Rakitin and Lily Sacofsky as Vera, so their stories slip only occasionally into humour. 

Royce Pierreson makes the young tutor not totally unaware of his attractiveness or free from ambition, but so out of his depth that he becomes little more than collateral damage in other people's stories. 

Mark Gatiss as the doctor has one extended comic scene built around the most unlikely of marriage proposals that goes on too long but is undeniably funny, with Debra Gillett quietly droll as the object of what can just barely be called his affections. 

Bear with an almost-too-long wait while everything is set up, and prepare yourself for a sometimes startling mix of comedy and pathos, and Three Days In The Country does eventually pay off.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Three Days In The Country - National Theatre 2015 

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