In her director’s note, Wilson mentions how Marber adapted Turgenev’s original text, “making it tighter, shorter, and giving it an increased sense of comedy”. I’ll take her word for it as I don’t know the original text, but the comedy is certainly present throughout Three Days in the Country. Two characters, Shpigelsky (Peter Hambleton) and Ratakin (Gavin Rutherford), stick out as having funny little meta jokes doubling as personal favs: “Everyone’s out of character” and “Everyone’s a joke that they don’t get” respectively.
Marber’s adaptation is quite accessible considering his audience and his characters are more than two-hundred-years apart. Though there are lines that strike as jarring. Several of the characters repeat lines like “I wish I could kill myself but I have too many responsibilities”. Perhaps it’s a piece of dialogue people from the nineteenth century would throw out, but it feels like these are intended to elicit laughter; instead, they leave the audience deadpan and pull us out of the fantasy. Comments like these differ from the comedy, since the latter doesn’t feel outdated. Most of the comedy is situational or wordplay, and lacks the temporal distance lines like the above have. The saving grace is there are only a few of these lines, which doesn’t leave us dangling out cold for too long before the comedy’s rays warm us up again.
The highest point of this production is its outstanding cast – each actor performs with vigour behind even the subtlest of movements and smallest of parts. Every member of the ensemble deserves praise for their dedication, and every member of the cast gives generously to their audience. However, there are several I wish to single out for their exquisite performances. The first is Rutherford in his portrayal of Rakitin. Rutherford provides the greatest range of all, with a character that serves every moment between heartwarming and comic. His interludes with the other ‘dudes’ of the play (Shpigelsky and Bolshintsov, played by Hambleton and Ken Blackburn respectively) involving the three’s poor attempts at love are hilarious, but we feel for Rakitin knowing what he’s going through. Rutherford is able to conjure so much sympathy from his audience, especially in his arguments with Natalya, my heart literally aches for his misfortunes.
The sheer strength and confidence Turei brings to Natalya is empowering to witness. Even with the show’s opening image, Turei lounging centre-stage while all the other character dart around her, making it clear Natalya is important. She is the focus. But it’s the nuances in Turei’s performance that really make Natalya enthralling – she shows us intimidating and intimidated, loving and in love, strength and weakness, spirit and severity, and all the notches in-between. Whenever Turei treats us to her presence, we’re her audience. She steals each scene, thunder, lighting, rain, and all.
Andrew Patterson is perfect as Schaaf, the German scholar and one of Kolya’s (Alex Buyck or Felix Steiner) tutors. His scenes normally surround drinking, card games, and thus, comedy, but some his words are the most impactful. As we watch the bond of student and master develop between him and Kolya, Patterson proves his character and portrayal aren’t surface, and he’s apt in making us laugh one moment and deeply contemplative the next.
Irene Wood’s Anna, the mother of Natalya’s husband, offers a reserved matriarch, but one that makes an impact whenever we see her on stage. Often, she carries a small hand-fan, with which she thwroops to punctuate her sentences and to alert whomever she’s speaking to that there’s nothing else to say. The character herself is humorous, but Wood’s work pushes this far higher with her slightly exaggerated but always maternal portrayal.
The costume design by Sheila Horton is utterly stunning. The colour palate is earthy, matching the drab country setting in mid-nineteenth century Russia – she only deviates with Natalya, Katya (Maia Diamond), and Belyaev (Simon Leary), the latter two having accents of red and the former having an array of beautiful, intricate gowns to choose from each time she graces the stage.
In contrast, the set feels oddly barren. It certainly provides the impression of the rural estate, but Circa One has a large stage and there’s so much space that the props, set pieces, and actors themselves aren’t enough to fill it, which leaves an empty feeling. However, what is constructed is exquisite – I’m drawn to the webbing-like backdrop specifically. I’m not entirely sure what material it is or if it serves a purpose other than establishing the rural setting, but there’s no mistaking the effort and craft.
During the first half, the show struggles with pace. There’s a lot of exposition for both the audience and the characters to navigate, and while learning about the inner workings of the characters and their feelings is engaging, it’s not always eye-catching. When it breaks from the exposition-heavy first half is where Three Days in the Country really shines. Wilson oscillates the rhythm of her scenes, presenting her audience with slower episodes, like Shpigelsky’s marriage proposal, and more turbulent exchanges, like when we have the fallout from Rakitin’s ultimatum. It’s a joy to watch the pace intensify as we become more and more windswept in the characters’ storms.
The attraction of Three Days in the Country is the encapsulating story about the struggles and ramifications of love and lust. The cast sweeps through the play like an all-powerful hurricane; each performer thunders a mighty performance, and is supported by jaw-gapingly gorgeous costumes and design. While I wish the more active pace the show develops post-interval swept through the whole show, Three Days in the Country is a roaring success on the merits of the cast and crew alone.
Three Days in the Country runs until Saturday 24 June at Circa Theatre. To find out more about the production or to book tickets, head to the Circa Theatre website.