Clifford Odets' The Country Girl opened last night (11 October 2010) at the Apollo Theatre reuniting Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove, who played on-again off-again lovers on the BBC's now cancelled Judge John Deed.
With the couple playing another fraught relationship, this time between an alcoholic actor and his 'country girl' wife, Martin Shaw opens at the Apollo after appearing in a different role in the same play 27 years ago, with a then fledgling producer Bill Kenwright also at the reigns.
Shaw and Seagrove are joined in the cast by Mark Letheren, Peter Harding, Nicholas Day, Luke Shaw and Thomasin Rand for the production, which is directed by Rufus Norris.
Did Kenwright's revival of the play which kicked off his career still manage to woo the critics?
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com ★★★ - "Thirty years after Martin Shaw played a demanding young theatre director... he returns to the same stage in the same play... as the washed-up, alcoholic old actor Frank Elgin in Clifford Odets’ not too sentimental 1950 backstage drama ... Shaw is... never magnificent or really leonine, not even in flashes, just angry. And Jenny Seagrove... never encompasses that dimension of mystery, and magic, that she spots in a dark theatre ... There's a too-squeaky young actress from Thomasin Rand, a nicely judged pudgy playwright from Luke Shaw, and a slyly wise and brisk old stage manager... from Peter Harding ... Norris seems most at home in arranging some very slick scene changes, with smart and evocative elisions, even though one cupboard dithers a little, and an onstage radio refuses to be turned on and then, more bizarrely, turned off, when it wasn't even on."
Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard ★★ - "Odets sets it up as a finely-calibrated three-way battle of wills between a director, an actor and his wife but Rufus Norris’ lacklustre production is bereft of the necessary emotional pointing ... Bernie Dodd (Mark Letheren) is determined to cast washed-up former star Frank Elgin (Martin Shaw) as the lead in a new, Broadway-bound play. An alcoholic and compulsive liar, Elgin is utterly dependent on his wife, Georgie (Jenny Seagrove). Shaw has a decent stab at drunk and dishevelled, swigging with abandon at the cough mixture with the high alcohol content, but the real problem lies where the play’s beating, bleeding heart should be. Even when expressing any sign of positivity – and there are few enough of these available to Georgie — Seagrove looks pinched and blanched of emotion, which results in a grim one-note performance. It’s increasingly difficult to care whether Georgie stays or goes, Frank learns his lines or sets off on a bender, the play flops or soars."
Libby Purves in The Times ★★★★ - "Martin Shaw’s Frank is a walking volcano, a bleary, volatile, deceitful, desperate, grandiose bomb-hazard ... Clifford Odets’s 1954 masterpiece is a study of acting, ageing, and alcoholism ... It also carries a sub-theme about Method acting (Odets was a 1930s Stanislavskian) ... Newcomer Thomasin Rand as the dippy ingenue who panics at Frank’s onstage passion... will stop any actress ever trusting a backstage hug again ... Now as Frank (Shaw) is magnificent, by turns pathetic and appalling, simultaneously lion, liar, and wheedling, self-pitying child. Nobody’s competing, but it must be said that Jenny Seagrove as Georgie is fully his equal: moving from the exhausted chilliness of a woman dwindled into a mother-wife, to angry tigress defending her weakling, to painful emotion when she and Bernie grow close. Hard to fault Rufus Norris’s direction, though even his careful ambiguity can’t disguise the fact that the play’s final upbeat belongs to a Broadway whose audiences didn’t like going home gloomy. Perhaps they were right."
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail ★★★ - "Mrs Elgin is supposedly a country girl - hence the title - who behaves like an old maid but is really young and beautiful ... This is an interesting idea. Who needs whom in such a marriage? But there the thing loses its power, because I'm afraid Miss Seagrove did not persuade me for one moment that she had rural American roots ... Mr Shaw does a decent job as confused, up-and-down Frank, whose evasive fibs may strike a chord with anyone who has known an alcoholic. With Mrs Elgin such an iceberg, the power play between her and her husband and the increasingly desperate director becomes indistinct. The pace is slow and the emotional turmoil is kept at gas mark two owing to Miss Seagrove's immobile upper lip. She gives us a hint of what could have been when Mrs Elgin removes her glasses and is momentarily bathed in beauty, and at another point when she dances privately to a favourite song. But on the whole she seethes rather than smoulders and the ending is more of a dribble than a finale."
Paul Callan in the Daily Express - "There is much sting and sharp edges in The Country Girla. What emerges from Shaw’s skilful portrayal of a once great actor on the skids is also one who is deeply dependent upon his wife for emotional and professional survival. Although Shaw gives a shattering performance, he does experience some problems with his accent. But that apart, he delivers a mesmerising performance. Jenny Seagrove shines as despairing wife Georgie. She possesses a seeming frailty that hides great inner strength. And the scene when she confronts his drink dependence is moving and deeply realistic. Mark Letheren as the cruelly ambitious young director... brings a sadistic edge to his portrayal of a man driven by determination. Rufus Norris’ direction is taut and keeps it all rattling along. Without that, this old play would creak along."