The Gate Theatre presents Brian Friel’s adaptation of one of Turgenev’s most famous plays “A Month in The Country”.
The plot of the story is, once again, as old as the world: somewhere in the deep Russian countryside there is a big house owned by a rich family with an oldish matriarch (played by Barbara Brennan) ruling over it. Upstairs, Downstairs. Both the rich and the poor are bored with themselves and the lack of absolutely anything happening around. So they have to make the life bearable by their own means. Natalia Petrovna (played by Aislín McGuckin) is the young lady of the house. Once married, she isn’t attracted to her rich husband (played by Nick Dunning) anymore. She doesn’t share his passions or interests… as a matter of fact, she is more interested in the family’s best friend Rakitin (played by Simon O’Gorman). Rakitin is a very educated, noble, rich and not that bad a looking man. He truly loves Natalia, but out of respects to her husband (his best friend), he doesn’t dare to do anything. Everything changes, when a new teacher has been hired for Islayev’s youngest son. Belyaev (played by Dominic Thorburn) is a 21 year old man from a very middle class family, who has earned his education and now works as a teacher. For him living with the Islayevs is fascinating. He had never been allowed before to a world of rich, elegant and sophisticated people. He immediately becomes attracted to Natalia for she is unlike any other woman he had seen before. She is also attracted to him, but more out of boredom. He is like a breath of fresh air in the routine of the everyday life, a new toy to play with, a different creature to study.
A Month in The Country is a very interesting piece of theatre because it strips downs the very human nature and shows it as it is. Rakitin leaving Natalia and the house, so he will not be “interrupting” his beloved’s happiness any more. Natalia, who for her own happiness, is ready to destroy another person’s life. She barely thinks twice when offered to marry out the little Vera (played by Caoimhe O’Malley) to a “fat, old and very stupid man” (played by Pat McGrath). Vera has fallen in love with Belyaev and therefore is considered to be blocking Natalia’s way to her own happiness.
The cheeky doctor (played by Mark O’Regan) comes and goes. He is that person who got stuck “in between” the classes. Being a worker, he will always remain a middle class man for the rich, but by constantly visiting and trying to get them to like him, he thinks that one day he might be able to join the club. A person of a good nature, he also doesn’t think twice when offered to play a part in the marrying out the “old, fat and stupid man” to Vera, as long as it profits him.
Then there is Herr Shaaf (played by Peter Gaynor), a German gentlemen, a friend of the family. Shaaf is hilarious. Due to his bad English, he doesn’t really know what’s going on. He likes Katya, the young maid (played by Clare Monnelly) and it’s quite clear that Katya is happy about that. Everyone is looking for their own benefits: the old German is attracted by the young blood, while Katya herself hopes to get out of the life of a poor maid. But, yet again, the two worlds can’t quite come together. The class gap is way too big. The only consolation to Katya is Matvey (played by Dermot Magennis), a forty year old man servant.
The story line is much more complicated than I have described it. Every single characters has a drama or an addiction of his or her own. By the way, talking about the characters… After having seen this particular production of A Month in The Country, I can honestly say that there are no small characters but only small actors.
A Month in The Country is a play full of characters whose storylines aren’t particularly huge and important, but! And here comes a very big But! All the actors made their small characters look so outstanding and full that I was simply wowed. Take, for example Lesaveta Bogdanovna (played by Ingrid Craigie). The woman didn’t play the part, she lived it. Every movement, every line, every gesture… for somebody who studies acting, that was an eye-opening performance. There are actors who act beautifully and doubtlessly are very talented, but Ingrid Craigie just was there and that was enough. During the interval I heard some whispers from the audience and was indeed very happy to realise that they all agreed with me.
The same goes to Nick Dunning. The only difference is that I had already been familiar with Mr. Dunning’s way of acting but, nevertheless, his astonishingly perfectioned skills never seize to amaze me. No movement is a small movement, no word is an insignificant word… It’s incredible to see real people on stage not just good actors.
And that’s what The Gate Theatre is all about: comfortable plays, beautiful sets, amazing dresses and very skilled actors. The play doesn’t really challenge or raise any serious modern issues. It’s just one of those cosy little plays that one can’t help but enjoy on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
A Month in The Country runs until August 22nd in The Gate Theatre, Dublin. For more info or to book tickets, please visit: http://www.gatetheatre.ie/production/AMonthInTheCountry2015