The Country by Martin Crimp.
Directed by Paulo Castro. Set design by David Lampard. Costume design by Michael Vo. Lighting design by Daniel Barber. Music by Fourteen Nights at Sea and Jonhann Johannson. Presented in association with Stone/Castro, Insite Arts International, State Opera of South Australia and Adelaide Festival of Arts State Opera Studio. Adelaide Festival of Arts 2016. March 7 – 13. 2016
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
The idyllic notion of the country as an escape from the stress and suffocation of the city is instantly disparaged in playwright Martin Crimp’s cryptic thriller The Country. Richard (Nathan O’Keefe), a doctor, and his wife, Corinne (Natalia Sledz) have moved into a converted granary with their two small children. When the play begins, Richard has returned with a woman whom he purportedly discovered unconscious on an isolated track.
|Natalia Sledz as Corinne in The Country. Photo. Rodeo|
One might expect a linear unravelling of the mysterious facts that suggest an act of kindness on Richard’s part. Crimp is not interested in a simple explicable narrative. In this Mulholland Drive meets Lantana psychological thriller, Crimp examines the tension within, a whirlpool of deceit and self-doubt, cleverly spiced with clues to keep the audience perplexed and intent on fathoming the mystery, but more concerned with human relationship and obsession. In a landscape of natural beauty lurks a simmering menace.
|Set design by Daniel Lampard|
In the State Opera Studio, Stone/Castro Productions, created by director, Paolo Castro and actor Jo Stone, have chosen Martin Crimp’s challenging drama to expose the truths beneath the lies in human interaction. It is a daring choice and one that requires insight into the motives of behavior and the perilous consequences of the tangled web of woven mysteries. The play opens well enough with the cavernous, haunting tones of the Double Bass, jarred by the strained strings of the violin of post rock band Fourteen Nights at Sea. There is an unsettling strain in the relationship between Richard and Corinne. Suspicious and bewildered, Corinne seeks explanation. Indignant and defensive Richard evades with obvious prevarication. Who is she? Why did he bring her here? What does she want? Corinne probes further to reveal the contradictions. The cracks in the relationship widen; the doubts increase and the woman upstairs brings the marital flaws to the surface.
|Nathan O'Keefe as Richard nd Jo Stone as Rebecca in|
Paulo Castro's production of The Country
When the sententious Rebecca appears after Richard’s departure to treat a patient, truth emerges from the shadows as the two women confront each other in the dim evening light. In Castro’s production, the crucial first meeting between Corinne and Rebecca is obscured to a certain extent by inaudible dialogue and deliberate but evasive underplaying. Castro also decides to play much of the action behind the timber slats of David Lampard’s timber framed set. Daniel Barber’s atmospheric lighting design also urges an audience to strain to make out the facial features and their emotional intent. Castro has opted for heightened intrigue over overt clarity in reverence to Crimp’s teasing text. Gradually clues emerge to suggest a fractured marriage, an illicit relationship and a web of dangerous deceit. Questions remain. What becomes of the woman? Has Corinne left Richard, on learning the truth from Rebecca? Has Richard resolved the dilemma in a deadly solution to the situation?
|Nathan O'Keefe and Natalia sledz in The Country|
The Country exposes the stark contrast between the assumed idyll and the dark condition of the troubled human psyche. The pervasive threat to contentment in a rural retreat is articulated in design and the overused soundtrack, but the performances still lack depth and contrast. Only Nathan O’Keefe’s performance creates an energy and expressiveness that sparks Stone and Sledz’s reactions. Both Stone and Sledz appear to be performing for film, probing the subtlety and nuance of their character, rather than embracing the dynamic of the text upon the stage. Stone’s character gains confidence in the scenes with O’Keefe and Sledz captures the insecurity of Corinne’s confused predicament. O’Keefe has effectively found the measure of his character and Crimp’s intriguing mystery, and hopefully Sledz and Stone will soon reach the mettle of their performances
|Natalia Sledz and Nathan O'Keefe in Martin Crimp's The Country|
Photo by Daniel Purvis
This was a preview performance of The Country in preparation for the main season during the Adelaide Festival of Arts. I can only hope that Castro and his actors will find their feet and have the audiences sitting on the edge of their seat.