Review: The Country, Arcola Theatre

“People don’t stand for anything; they just exist”

The Country, by Martin Crimp is another collaboration between the Arcola Theatre and Iceni Productions (last year saw them do Mamet’s The Shawl) but actually marks the first time I have seen a Crimp play. I have seen plays that he has translated but never one of his original works so I was intrigued to see how I would react to this rather polarising playwright in his own words. But there was another reason I wanted to go, as the building is being converted (into luxury flats, what else) and so the Arcola is on the move. Although not too far, to the Colourworks building (which is next door to the Printhouse where I used to work) right by the new Dalston Junction station, but change is most definitely afoot and I wanted to make sure I make the most of its current set-up as it has been one of my favourite venues to visit in the last couple of years.

The play follows a middle class family as they relocate from an urban lifestyle to one in the countryside. Richard is a doctor and Corinne a housewife but their domestic quiet is shattered when he brings home an unconscious young woman late at night. For Rebecca, as we find out her name to be, is much much more than just a stranger and her arrival provokes an unravelling of secrets from the past and uncertainties in the present as her presence forces a reassessment of the turmoil that we now see in beneath the paper-thin façade of this marriage.

And I have to say I found it completely gripping. Given how oblique much of the writing is, so much is left unsaid and left for us to infer, I was hooked from the start. The prose is full of silences and repetitions which echo resoundingly and ominously as we slowly being to discover some of the reasons behind the move to the country and Richard’s behaviour, but there’s no tidy resolutions here but rather a tantalising sense of the compromises that are made in the name of maintaining the status quo.

Amanda Root is sensational as the quietly desperate Corinne, she manages to communicate volumes with just her eyes in an often heartbreaking manner and she remained utterly believable throughout. And I also enjoyed Simon Thorp’s masculine Richard with his dry delivery, every word weighted heavily with mystery and together, their chemistry was electric: I could have watched them talk all night. Naomi Wattis did well as the American Rebecca, the cat amongst these pigeons, fully aware of the power she could wield over this couple but equally unable to conceal her own vulnerability.

Anna Bliss Scully’s design is excellent, a sparsely furnished set, with it and the audience surrounded by trees which are eerily lit by Richard Williamson, it really does enhance the ambience of discomfort and general creepiness which is just right. So highly recommended, not least because it will be one of the last opportunities to see yet another inventive use of the Arcola’s current space and some high quality acting up close. It’s a real shame they have to move but there’s also the sense of opportunity that comes with change and a new beginning so if you feel inclined to support this exciting theatre with its innovative approaches to abolishing its carbon footprint, then please do so by visiting their website and helping out.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £1.50
Booking until 23rd October
Note: the note at the theatre is most specific “two cigarettes are smoked in this production”

1 thought on “Review: The Country, Arcola Theatre

  1. I think the new venue will be a great opportunity for them, especially with the greater spaces for their associated work too.

    Agree with review though, this was spine-tinglingly good.

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