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BWW Review: ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2016: THE COUNTRY Is A Powerful Psychological Thriller

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Monday 7th March 2016

Presented in association with Insite Arts, Stone/Castro, State Opera of SA, and the Adelaide Festival of Arts, The Country is a gritty piece, very much in Martin Crimp's familiar oeuvre. In April 2012, I reviewed a production of his play, The City, so reviewing The Country ties up both ends of the spectrum. Stone/Castro is the company established by Jo Stone and Paulo Castro in 2003 in Europe. Although they both have their individual careers, they have produced some critically acclaimed works for their company down the years.

Originally the play was set in the English countryside, Richard and Corinne, the general practitioner husband and his wife, being Londoners around the age of forty. The location, though, is not important to the play, and the Australian countryside works just as well. David Lampard's set, with a pile of logs, cut ready for the winter fire, and gum tree branches lying around, place it anywhere in this huge continent, making the work ready to tour the country. It very well might do that.

The house is run down, almost derelict, the walls reduced to some strips of timber from the original lath and plaster walls, with some faded wallpaper near the top. Daniel Barber's lighting design conveys the time passing as the play progresses from night to day, as well as intensifying the pressure cooker atmosphere by reducing the lit area to hold the actors in close proximately. They traverse the decrepit space as though the house was a showpiece. This is an analogy for their marriage. They continue to carry on, pretending that there is nothing wrong, while others in the town, and the audience, are left wondering why such an incredibly dysfunctional couple ever got together in the first place, let alone why they are still with one another.

They do not so much talk to each other as spit poison barbs with every sentence. It is not a relationship, it is a completion, a battle, verbal arm-wrestling. Richard has brought home a woman that he claims that he found unconscious on the side of a track, originally a twenty-five year old American but, like the others, an Australian in this production, saving us from the horror of having to listen to spurious and wandering accents. We later learn that her name is Rebecca, after she wakes and comes out to encounter Corinne.

One by one the lies are peeled away and truth creeps out. We find out a lot more about their pasts, and their current situations, but often in convoluted and fractured dialogue. A seemingly meaningless conversation about a glass of water carries a level of power play between Richard and Corinne. Simple things such as giving her new shoes for her birthday and commenting that she looks different in them prompts her to question, "Is that what you want?"

If you think that you detect more than a touch of Harold Pinter, you would be correct. That comparison has been made many times. Crimp, too, has that oblique dialogue and provides full directions to the actors, as can be seen in this snippet from near the start of the play: "What are you looking at?" "Looking?" [pause for effect] "Yes, looking" "I was looking at." "Yes?" "The trees. I was looking at the trees [odd laugh]."

Are they staying together for their two children, who are spoken of but do not appear? Is it some sadomasochistic relationship in which they enjoy the constant sparring, mistrust, accusations, lies, and mental abuse? Crimp doesn't answer these questions, nor does he even offer a signpost for us to follow. He leaves it to the audience to decide for themselves all of the intricacies and ramifications. Even the telephone calls from Richard's boss, Maurice, take on a greater significance, interrupting, as they do, tense moments between Richard and Corinne.

Jo Stone and Nathan O'Keefe are the ill-matched couple. Nathan O'Keefe is a regular performer with the State Theatre Company of South Australia, often starring in the most outrageous comedies, and equally at home in productions for children but, here, he has an opportunity to remind us of his versatility in a dramatic role. Jo Stone performs regularly with Stone/Castro, but also freelances, as does the director of this production, Paulo Castro. Natalia Sledz is a relative newcomer, having only graduated in 2014, but she gives every indication that she will be worth keeping an eye on in the future.

What is clear is that this is a joint effort by the three actors and the director, all of whom have a mutual understanding of the way that they are interpreting this play, giving the performance an inner strength. Castro certainly has a light touch on his direction, the actors indicating that they own the performance as mush as he does. As for the three actors, their characterisations are complete, full three-dimensional and, because of that, the tension can be felt by the audience. It is, at times, uncomfortable, with so many possibilities as to what might happen next. Their superb performances kept us on edge.

Hurry for tickets to this production, being performed at the Opera Studio.

Photo Credit: Rodeo, Adelaide Festival of Arts



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