A Month in the Country, Chichester Festival Theatre, October 2010Posted on 3 October 2010
At the end of this Turgenev play most people depart, leaving Natalya alone in her boredom and unhappy marriage.
In the meantime it always looks as if things might work out more happily, particularly if Natalya’s relationship with Rakitin — who adores her and lives in the household — can stabilise itself. Rakitin is the character closest to Turgenev himself, who enjoyed a forty-year relationship with the celebrated singer Pauline Viardot, even living in her household, and Michael Feast played the part superbly. Utterly convincing, he elicited my sympathies, as did Phoebe Fox as Natalya’s foster-daughter. She gave a beautiful portrayal of intelligence and sincerity in the face of Janie Dee’s mercurial and histrionic Natalya, showing a woman scarcely under control as she battles with her repressed desire for the young tutor who has been with the family for less than a month.
Jonathan Coy gave a fine portrayal of Natalya’s husband Arkady, who simply doesn’t grasp what’s going on, and Joanna McCallum was excellent as his widowed mother, delivering her final speech with superb gravitas and sensitivity. Kenneth Cranham was wittily absurd as the local doctor, speaking with evident conviction when he describes himself as a “bitter, cunning, angry peasant”. This doctor is happy to avail himself of the opportunity to dine in the pleasant surroundings of the estate, well represented in Paul Brown’s designs with excellent lighting by Mark Henderson. The slightly worn appearance of the house helped give a sense of impending doom, and as Donald Rayfield writes in the programme, “after . . . watching A Month in the Country you realise quite how painful is the catastrophe that has struck the characters”.
Of course the catalyst for this catastrophe is the young tutor, supposedly a lively and attractive young man, but played here by James McArdle as an unattractive Scottish oik. Was that the director’s intention, or simply the actor’s natural inclination? In any case it seemed odd that either Natalya or Vera could fall for this fellow — but with that one reservation aside this Jonathan Kent production gave a convincing sense of the underlying emotions fuelling the slow-motion train wreck into which some of these characters are propelling the others.
Performances of this Brian Friel adaptation of Turgenev’s play continue until October 16.