An afternoon at the Lyttleton, National Theatre, where we find Patrick Marber’s new version of the lengthy Turgenev play ‘A Month in the Country’, now around half the length and retitled ‘Three Days in the Country’.

This production, with a minimalist set (painted backdrop of trees etc, and red doors leading nowhere), has the accent on comedy with the best performance coming from Mark Gatiss as the doctor who is a ‘maestro of misdiagnosis’ with a dodgy back.  His proposal to a disinterested Lizaveta (Debra Gillett) is most amusing.

At this performance Amanda Drew, who plays Natayla, was indisposed, so her understudy Cassie Raine stepped in and was very good in what is perhaps the key role of the play, the wife who seeks distraction from a stale marriage to the rich Arkady (John Light) who has stopped seeing her rich qualities as his partner in life.  On the fringes is their longtime friend Rakitin (john Simm), hopelessly in love with Natayla but finding his attentions unrequited.  Simm, to me, was too over the top and lacking a sense of the tragic, which was a shame.

Natayla is in love, though, with the young tutor Belyaev (Royce Pierreson), a man who seems rather fickle as we see him flirting with the maid Katya (Cherrelle Skeete) while leading on the young Vera (Lily Sacofsky), ward to Arkady and Natayla.  Sensing a rival for the youth she craves, Natayla plots Vera’s marriage to an old neighbour, Bolshintsov (Nigel Betts) to remove the girl from her house.

Rounding out this rich cast are Lynn Farleigh and Gawn Grainger, and the whole ensemble works well together, presenting an entertaining two hours which punctuates laughs with moments of emotional pathos and Russian songs.  Marber directs as well as writes with a sure hand, and the design work of Mark Thompson and Neil Austin is well worth a mention.

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