By Ella McKeown
On Tuesday, I was lucky enough to sit in on the dress rehearsal of Three Days in the Country, written by Patrick Marber and put together by a rather talented group of third year theatre students at the University of York.
Sitting in the fairly empty Scenic Stage Theatre at the desolate wind farm of Campus East, the initial look of the stage had me in awe. The pre-set was mesmerising with green and pink hues illuminating Emma Whiston’s striking set. As the actors suddenly sprang into animation, I was transported back in time to the summer of a 1840s Russian country estate, birds tweeting and sunlight cascading through high windows.
Over the course of three days, a tale of unrequited love and secrecy unravels in this household driven to boredom by the formalities and monotony of life in the country. Marber’s text intricately weaves dark melancholy with light comedy, and Hayley Clark’s direction (in no doubt supported by her team of dramaturgs) picked this text apart to create a dynamic piece of theatre with incredible pace and chemistry.
Natalya (Cara Mattinson) lives in a banal country estate trapped in a marriage that is ‘a performance of love for an audience of one small boy’. Frustrated and unfulfilled, she manipulates those around her to drive the narrative of the play forward, playing with the hearts of the men that come into her life. Mattinson, dressed in possibly the most stunning costume I have seen (kudos to the talented costume designer Filip Geese), struts about the stage, exuding status and a tarnished sort of grace. It’s hard to take your eyes off of her. Red chiffon falls to frame a pair of trousers to bridge a gap between femininity and power, bending the gender expectations of the period.
There are lots of symbolic details like this in the costume throughout, most notably the skirt hoops on show, causing the female characters to struggle around on the set. The women in this play are funny and strong, with raw emotions and brilliant timing, they are in no way simply love interests – they own the stage and their eye-catching costumes effectively demand attention.
The delicate nuances of the interactions between Mattinson and both Dean Murphy as Rakitin and Cullum Ball as Belyaev really stole the show. In fact, one thing that stood out in this piece as a whole was the precision and thoughtfulness behind each interaction on stage, creating a world of engrossing relationships. Whether it was the comedic sparks between Dr Shpigelsky (Emily Ashmore) and land owner Bolshinstov (Jess Field), or the lustful affair between Belyaev and Katya (Jess O’Brien) that results in a climactic eating of a plum, the connections on stage were a joy to watch. All these relationships intertwine over the course of these three days to create a wild map of love triangles and betrayal that could rival any soap opera.
However, the performance did take a little while to get going. Some transitions were slightly clunky and with such a large stage to fill, it was sometimes hard to see the energy purposefully being shared and passed between the actors. Yet, as this was their first full dress, I am in no doubt that those few jarring moments will be ironed out – as I left the auditorium, I heard the cry of ‘NOTES!’ called from above. Nevertheless, the overall vitality of the performance was spectacular, and all involved should be very proud of what they have achieved already, even before opening night!
If you enjoy spectacle and scandal, this is the play for you. There’s lust and love, contempt and hatred, all boiled together in a delightfully juicy concoction of drama. There are some amazing lines, both poignant and hilarious, handled with great precision and skill. This show will have you laughing, but also thinking, contemplating how we conduct ourselves in social situations, examining what it means to love and be loved or to let love go.
You think that love is a blessing? You will know the hatred that burns love out.
Three Days in the Country opens tomorrow on the 28th November in TFTI’s Scenic Stage Theatre and has its final performance on Saturday, so grab your tickets at the link below while you can – I for one will be heading back to see it again!
Images by Sara Chew