The mise en scène was sparse, with three transparent shower-curtain like plastic patterned panels hanging from the ceiling, hinting at drawing room décor. On curtain up, a worn red-panelled metal door hangs mid-air. The backdrop is vivid sky, darkening over a country landscape with a softened focus.
Three Days in the Country is a new version of the mid-nineteenth century comedy ‘A Month in the Country’ by Ivan Turgenev. Patrick Marber has modernised the comedy of manners and the National Theatre brings Mark Gatiss and John Simm to the production, and not a seat was spare on the Saturday matinee. The women I was sitting next to came here because she comes here a lot; she loves the place and without hesitation recommends a number of plays currently running, but she doesn’t know much about this play and neither do I.
Once I suspended my requirement to identify with the story through the scenery, and I concentrated on the actors and their (excellent) costumes, I found myself quite engaged with the fate of the characters, as well as the comedy and the plot. It particularly got a lot better at the start of second half. What the scenery does is leave you searching for a point of focus – perhaps an intentional manipulation of the audience. The full cast remains on stage throughout the play, and sit on the edges of the stage, when not in scene. It’s a bit like chess. It adds to the effective orchestration of plot, which opens with the arrival of a tutor, to an isolated country house and has at its centre a restless and unsatisfied housewife. Maybe I’ve modernised the terms a bit. Amanda Drew, Cherelle Skeete and Debra Gillett provided interesting female characters. Gillett stands out particularly as Lizaveta, love interest to Mark Gattiss’, Shpigelsky. The ending was poignant and light-hearted at once, a welcome remedy for the idealistic amongst us.
By Lou Clement
Three Days in the Country is running at the National Theatre until 21 October.