Amanda Drew (Natalya) and John Simm (Rakitin). ©Tristram Kenton
Based on Turgenev's A Month in the Country, this abridged production was as fast-paced as you'd expect from a play that had been shortened from five acts to just two; taking what could have easily been a sluggish tale of infidelity and unrequited love in the Russian countryside to a snappy comedy that a times leaned perhaps just a tad too much into slapstick territory.
Natalya (Amanda Drew) is the wife of rich Russian landowner Arkady (John Light), who despite her husband's clear passion is bored in her marriage. She shamelessly flirts with family friend Rakitin (John Simm) and falls head over heels in love with a young tutor by the name of Belyaev (Royce Pierreson). Natalya isn't the only one charmed by the new eye-candy though, and that is when things get just a little bit complicated for the family.
While the thought of a Russian play wouldn't normally spark my interest due to witnessing too many poorly put on Chekov productions, having both high expectations of the National Theatre and already being familiar with several of the actors – including John Simm, who appeared in Trafalgar Studios' excellent The Hot House, and Mark Gatiss, who was tremendous in Season's Greetings at the National – I was interested to check out Three Days in the Country. And I wasn't disappointed.
Amanda Drew's initial stand-offish Natalya provided a great contrast to John Simm's silently passionate Rakitin, and the introduction of Royce Pierreson's Belyaev created a shift in characters that was fascinating to watch. Though while the focus of the play was on the complicated and ever-changing relationship dynamics, its strength lay in the unexpected bouts of humour; both of the quick-witted dialogue variety and the more physical kind, with a particularly memorable moment involving Mark Gatiss' awkward doctor Shpigelsky in the second act.
For a play created and set in the mid-19th century it felt surprisingly contemporary as Patrick Marber's adaptation was fast-paced and engaging, and despite a somewhat similar storyline of unrequited love befalling several of the characters it remained exciting throughout. It felt fresh not only through its unanimous spot-on performances by the cast and the rapid dialogue, but also because of the minimalist and almost industrial set-design, which added a modern touch to the production.
'Everyone's a joke they don't get,' Simm's Rakitin says at one point during the first act, and that sums up the characters within this terrific play rather well. Those three days in the country are filled to the brim with unashamed infidelity, mad mishaps and farcical confrontations, creating an effervescently entertaining two hours in the theatre.
Three Days in the Country is playing at the National Theatre until 21 October 2015. You can book tickets here.