A Month in the Country has been described as Chekhovian, which is true insofar as it’s about a wealthy Russian family in the 19th century. But Turgenev’s melodrama has none of the subtleties of Chekhov, in fact it’s more like a Russian soap opera as bored wife Natalya comes to terms with the fact that she’s in love with her son’s tutor (who is in turned loved by Natalya’s ward, Vera).
Brian Friel’s version is rich in modernisms and colloquial speech and Jonathan Kent’s production captures the almost operatic nature of the action – it’s a play that’s so rich in soliloquies and two-handed conversations that it’s almost like a chamber opera. And Paul Brown’s sumptuous set, with branches stretching into the auditorium evokes languid summer days.
But this is really a play that hinges on the central performance and Janie Dee fails to pack any emotional punch as the woman caught in the middle of the maelstrom, certainly I didn’t get any sense of the turmoil that she was undergoing. Both Michael Feast as her own, thwarted admirer and the James McArdle as the object of her attentions display more of the despair at the situation they’ve landed in.
The real drama came elsewhere: Joanne McCallum’s matriarch remembering her own marriage and her husband’s other woman was far more moving, as was Kenneth Cranham’s wily old doctor’s wooing of the old woman’s companion. And a fine cameo from Tony Haygarth as the gauche, old suitor for Vera provided some of the few comic touches – again, very different from Chekhov.
For all its style, this was a rather disappointing end to what has been a superb summer season at Chichester – it’s a pity to end on a low key.