Review: A schemer made helpless by desire
A Month in the Country at the Gate Theatre, Dublin
Brian Friel’s version of Ivan Turgenev’s play retains its Russian mid 19th Century setting, though the language has an occasional modern feel and Irish tinge. It fits neatly into the “frocks in sets” strand of Gate programming.
Natalya, bored by her project-obsessed husband and tiring of the attentions of her old friend and admirer Michel, falls in love with her son’s 21-year-old tutor Aleksey. Inconveniently, Natalya’s 17-year-old ward Vera also falls in love with him.
The play is about love, but also about class and aging. Aleksey is seduced by the grandeur of the house and its occupants. Natalya is seduced by the tutor’s youth.
A fascinating character, Natalya is a scheming manipulator who becomes helpless in the face of her desire. However, Aislín McGuckin is too thin a presence on the stage; her performance lacks the moral complexity which would give her Natalya more resonance.
Director Ethan McSweeny makes some strange choices. Natalya and Michel are far too openly affectionate in front of all the card players in the opening scene and this sabotages the dramatic effect of the husband’s jealousy in the second half.
Mark O’Regan does a brilliant job as the joker Doctor Shpigelsky. He conducts his low-level class warfare with steel underlying the humour. Caoimhe O’Malley as young Vera goes on a wonderful journey from giggly kid to mature young woman after the smack of betrayal. She becomes the centre of the play.
Francis O’Connor’s set is a triumph, recreating the faux Ionic pillars of the Gate proscenium four times deep into the stage space, providing a grand architectural frame for the interiors, and a neat theatrical frame for the outdoor scenes. Costumes by Peter O’Brien are supremely elegant, the servants’ outfits trimmed with a folksy Russian brocade, the lady of the house in silks and satins; perfect Gate material.