Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Russian drama is a classic

 A Month in the Country

Hall Green Little Theatre


AN excellent company responds to the challenge of Ivan Turgenev's imposing piece of classical 19th-Century Russian drama with a production of authority and stature.

Director Roy Palmer's players know precisely what is expected of them and they deliver it, their lines emerging with clarity and stumble-free, negotiating unruffled the play's insistence on requiring them to address each other with first and second multi-syllabled names on every possible occasion, in obeisance to an old Russian custom.

Love is popularly believed to make the world go round, and Turgenev has invested his comedy with enough of it to spur it into a spinning frenzy. There is real love, imagined love, despair, rivalry, jealousy, flirting and confusion. Intermittently, it provokes lengthy discussion.

Yet with it all, we never feel overwhelmed or hemmed in – perhaps due to Roy Palmer's superb, open, fretwork-style setting, which exudes spaciousness and gives the characterisation the vital room to breathe. So the action floats with an ineffable charm.

It may indeed take more than 3½ hours to tell a story that first unfolded in five acts in 1872, but its self-indulgence never weighs heavily. It carries us gently at its own pace and it charms us all the way.


Yes, there are occasional upheavals, like the outburst of James Weetman's Rakitin – a towering few moments from a player whose clarity of diction is such a notable feature of his performance. But in general these are characters whose feelings, though made clear, are gently expressed. They tend to despair quietly, sharing their thoughts with us in soliloquies rather than shouting matches.

Zofia Zolna (seen left withJames Weetman as Rakitin)  takes centre-stage as Natalia, whose marriage does not satisfy her but whose limited response to the doting Rakitin does not satisfy him, either. Enter Beliaev (Oliver Harvey-Vallender), youthful tutor to her young son (Ross Shaw) with his encounter with her 17-year-old ward Vera (Aleksandra Everitt). Cue love's young dream – and dismay for Natalia, who has seen Beliaev as a promising proposition.

Hovering on the fringes of the entangled central themes is Ignaty Illyich Shpichelsky, the family doctor with the twinkle in his eye and a flair for amusing comments. He is played by Mel Hulme in impish mood and to great effect, but he is really only an onlooker – as, indeed, is Arkadi Yslaev, Natalia's gentle, quietly spoken and largely-discounted husband, presented with unpushful effectiveness by Mike Nile.

Also involved to unfaultable effect are the older generation, the companion, Natalia's German tutor and the servants, plus the neighbour who is on the receiving end of Natalya's plot to marry Vera off to him.

The company of more than a dozen, centred on the resolute Zofia Zolna and the frustrated Aleksandra Everitt, does not have a weak link. It carries us with confidence. It gives us laughs when we need them. It's a delight. To 27.3.10.

John Slim

Box Office : 0121 707 1874    On-line booking  


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