THREE DAYS in the country

John Simm leads a fantastic ensemble cast at the National by Joe Campbell

Three Days in the Country John Simm National Theatre On Stage Performing Marber Turgenev

based on Ivan Turgenev’s 1869 drama A Month in the Country, Patrick Marber’s adaptation tells the story of a handsome and articulate tutor who arrives at a wealthy family’s estate to help a young boy with his studies. His arrival, however, ignites love and lust in a number of family members.

Three Days in the Country is a story about love. It is not, however, a love story in the conventional sense. Whereas one might think of a love story as a tale of two people overcoming hardships thanks to the triumphant qualities of love, what Turgenev’s play and Marber’s interpretation shows us is the honest, uncomfortable truths of love. That it is a powerful emotion, one which can be destructive if handled badly. During the course of the play the darker sides of love and passion are revealed; jealousy, anger, frustration, pettiness, denial and helplessness. Moreover, it is done with a tremendous amount of wit and cynical humour too.

Three Days in the Country John Simm National Theatre On Stage Performing Marber Turgenev fishing rod
The intelligent staging of the play is one of its most enjoyable aspects, echoing Brecht’s ‘Epic Theatre’ – the theory that performance can be a vehicle for objectivity and self-reflection, rather than just an escape into an alternate reality. Towards the back of the stage each actor and actress sat in a row of chairs, visible to the audience even when not ‘on-stage’, reminding us that we were watching a performance and forcing us to be analytical of what was being said, rather than becoming lost in a ‘story’. At times I stopped seeing Simm as the misanthropic Rakitin, and saw his despondency as an exaggeration of my own frustrations. The minimalistic set and snappy, rarely-a-line-wasted dialogue added to this clever disillusionment, ensuring that the audience were never distracted by unnecessary chatter.

“Marber’s interpretation shows us the honest, uncomfortable truths of love

The Lyttelton Theatre at the National is no small performance area and the director was not afraid to use the space as much as possible. Making sure the actors stayed a fair distance apart gave a great impression of the vast and expansive Russian countryside, and also meant that when the characters did get close, their coming together was more meaningful.

Three Days in the Country John Simm National Theatre On Stage Performing Marber Turgenev Mark Gatiss Shpigelsky

Mark Gatiss as the brilliantly funny Shpigelsky

John Simm in his various television and film roles is an actor who manages to vocalise frustration and entrapment extremely well and his lovesick Rakitin is just as powerful. His punchy sarcasm is a joy as it cuts through the mounting tension. Mark Gatiss (Wolf Hall, Game of Thrones) is also very funny as the eccentric, yet brutally honest doctor Shpigelsky. In fact, each character manages to effectively portray a different convention of love, and Lily Sacofsky, in her theatrical debut, does a solid job of illustrating the recklessness of first love.

Three Days in the Country shows us that love is not always the pure thing we hope it to be. Love can steer people towards bad decisions, love is the shards we are left to pick up after being shattered, it is the jealousy and anger of unrequited affection and the tragedy of a truly broken heart that never fully heals. The characters, in turn, articulate these despairing feelings in a way that most of us at some point in our lives have wanted to.

Three Days in the Country John Simm National Theatre On Stage Performing Marber Turgenev
The play is certainly not all doom and gloom; there is a huge amount of humour and charm borne of each character’s flawed personality. So even though the setting, characters and costumes are from another time and place, the message remains universal.

THREE DAYS IN THE COUNTRY
From 21 July to 21 October
The National Theatre
Upper Ground, South Bank
SE1 9PX
t: 020 7452 3000
w: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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