Patrick Marber has admitted in an interview that moving his family away from London to the Sussex countryside didn't work for him: "I thought I could write anywhere, but it was too peaceful, just too … nice. I was having a coffee in Waitrose in Crowborough, reading the Guardian sports pages, and I suddenly thought, I need to get out."
Luckily for us he did, and he brought almost a decade of being absent from the theatrical stage to an end. Now he's virtually the National's writer-in-residence for Rufus Norris's new regime, with plays he has worked on playing in each of its three auditoria. His own brand-new play The Red Lion is now in the rep in the Dorfman (though I described it here as "more of a gentle whimper than a full-blown roar of a play." In the Olivier, he has script-doctored the riotous The Beaux' Stratagem; and now in the Lyttelton, he has produced a new version of Turgenev's A Month in the Country, condensing its timeframe and re-titling it Three Days in the Country to match.
Turgenev preceded Chekhov and clearly influenced him; as Marber again put it in an interview, "Not that much happens, but everything happens. The fundamentals feel Chekhovian – the slight driftiness of it, the steady accumulation of plot, all these different plots spinning – but Turgenev came up with that form." And Marber keeps those plates spinning beautifully now in a very elegant, luxuriously cast production that he himself directs that throws a haunting glow over the Lyttelton.
As in Chekhov's The Seagull, there's a lot of unrequited love around: everyone longs for someone they can't have. The bored, dissatisfied wife (the ever-wonderful Amanda Drew) of rich landowner Arkady (John Light) flirts shamelessly with Rakitin (John Simm), an old friend of the family, and then turns her attention on their son's new tutor Belyaev (Royce Pierreson). But she's got competition both from her own ward Vera (Lily Sacofsy) and even a maidservant Katya (Cherrelle Skeete) who shares more than a peach with him. There's light comic relief (but not much by way of romance) when Mark Gatiss's Shpigelsky, a doctor, tentatively proposes marriage to Lizaveta (Debra Gillett), spinster companion of Arkady's mother.
Thanks to the exquisitely inhabited performances of the entire cast that also includes such great veterans of the stage as Gawn Grainger and Lynn Farleigh, this production provides an evening of lovingly textured pleasure that gives you three days of events in little over 2 hours.
"But, while there is much to admire, I feel Marber’s version tilts Turgenev’s exquisitely balanced mix of psychology and politics too far in the direction of a satire on a group of social parasites."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Some may grumble that Mark Thompson’s design strips things back too far, leaving the eye with barely enough to feed on. The setting is an extensive provincial Russian estate in the 1840s but naturalistic detail is scant."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"Mr Marber, whose fluent adaptation is an act of admirable truncation, directs his own show. That is not always a good idea...Does it explain the actors sitting on chairs in full view of the audience when they are not ‘on’? What a cliche of trendiness!"
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail