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.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist in Russia narrowly misses being hit by car and lorry
- 2 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 3 What are your fingerprint words?
- 4 Gary Lineker involved in Twitter row after presenter rubbishes claims he will be warned by BBC over foul-mouthed tweets
- 5 Pink Floyd new album: Band unveil cover art for first record in 20 years
Downton Abbey fans unimpressed by Kindle sponsorship adverts
Thomas Heatherwick creates gin palace with a fantastical Willy Wonka vibe
Idris Elba 'absolutely' wants to play James Bond
Cilla, episode 2, ITV, review: Sheridan Smith continues to shine
Kendrick Lamar: New song 'i' released on Soundcloud sampling Isley Brothers - listen here
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
Labour Party conference: Ed Balls to set out plan to freeze child benefit to balance books