Arts: A month is a long time in sexual politics
Theatre;:A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY; ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE, STRATFORD
Saturday 19 December 1998
Michael Attenborough now revives it at the RSC using a free version by Brian Friel which gives the dialogue a lively Irish rhythm. If my ears don't deceive me, though, there's an impish touch here. Jack Tarlton's baby-faced, bashfully grinning Aleksey - the tutor who bags the heart of both the bored, discontented Natalya and her young ward and unwittingly turns the household upside down before doing a bunk - is played as a Scot. Anomalous, yet psychologically convincing: it is, after all, traditional wisdom that a Scots accent could sell you anything.
The critic James Agate once wrote that all that is necessary for success with A Month in the Country is the absence of a star actor and the refusal of the company to suspend animation when the leading character speaks. Well, Michael Attenborough's production meets both those criteria - in the first instance rather disappointingly for those with memories of Helen Mirren matchlessly mercurial Natalya.
But this unevenly cast production suggests there is another essential requirement - the ensemble should have quirky personality in depth. Much the most striking performance comes from Lloyd Hutchinson, who bares the teeth of bogus chortling jollity to hilarious effects as the low-born doctor driven to clowning for the nobs as a way of concealing his contempt for them.
Prepared to sell Natalya's ward into a grotesque marriage for three horses and a wagonette, Hutchinson's quack radiates a sort of seedy cheerfulness, as though being able to smile in the face of his moral squalor was quite a mark in his favour. As Vera, the young ward successively traduced by Natalya, the tutor and the doctor, Catherine Walker is also most impressive, offering a heart-catching study in blighted innocence. Too many other characters are either under- or over-played, like Jayne Ashbourne's excruciatingly pert servant.
As Natalya, Sara Stewart is a vision of creamy skinned, gorgeously dressed loveliness, with a nice line in languid brow-cocking irony and transparent manipulativeness. True to Turgenev's understanding of human inconsistency, she can keep us guessing from one moment to the next whether she will react with spitefulness, orsolicitude. Thanks to this, the scene where Natalya sounds out her ward's feelings towards the tutor comes over like a dry run for the even greater scene in Uncle Vanya between Yelena and Sonia.
Ms Stewart never convinced me that she had genuinely fallen in love with Aleksey, so the ineffable mix in the character of play acting and sincere distress lacks a vital component. An engrossing production, but a patchy one.
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Apple has installed security backdoors on 600m iPhones and iPads, claims security researcher
- 2 Fight Club 2: Chuck Palahniuk sequel is a 'meta-fictional comment on the cultural response to the original'
- 3 Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Pro-Russian rebel 'admits to shooting down plane'
- 4 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 5 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
Fight Club 2: Chuck Palahniuk sequel is a 'meta-fictional comment on the cultural response to the original'
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?
Star Wars 7: Plot details 'leak', with sequel's opening sequence and premise revealed
Original Rick Astley 'rickrolling' video removed from YouTube
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: 'Nine Britons, 23 Americans and 80 children' feared dead after Boeing passenger jet is 'shot down' near Ukraine-Russia border
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains