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A CurtainUp London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge
Martin Crimp's new play, The Country at the Royal Court is a twist on a relationship triangle and the game of "scissors - paper - stone." It's a circular game that no-one can win if there are three participants, each one a different element.
The play opens to the sound of Corinne (Juliet Stevenson) cutting out pictures from a magazine. Her conversation too, is a snipping at her husband, an undermining of his masculinity. It seems that he is a man of paper, a man who is weak and deceitful. Their conversation is a war zone as they each snip and snipe at each other. She gets the best of him as he is revealed as feckless, unreliable as a husband and as a doctor. Like the game, each scene features only two of the three characters.
The plot is this. Corinne and her general practitioner husband, Richard, and their two children have moved from the city to a house in the country. He had a problem with drugs and has promised his wife that this will be a new start. Now he returns at night with a girl he says he has found at the side of the road, in a state of collapse. He puts her to bed in his house. Corinne has been through too much to take this at face value and grills him as he evades telling her the truth.
When he is called out to attend a birth the girl, Rebecca, wakes and talks to Corinne. It turns out that she knows Richard and Corinne ends up apologising for her husband's behaviour. The encounter between the women is very sparky -- as would be a meeting of scissors and stone. Rebecca (Indira Varma) is American, young, brazen, hard and cold as stone. She tells Corinne that she has been seduced, introduced to drugs and pursued to the country by her doctor. If true, this would be enough to strike him off the medical register. Corinne's first instinct is to protect her husband and her family.
Richard returns and finds Rebecca there awake and alone. They discuss their relationship and how Richard has abused his position. When two months later Corinne and Richard are celebrating her birthday, Corinne confronts him with the ruins of their marriage.
Katie Mitchell's talented direction keeps the play taught and tense. Crimp's writing allows for lots of interruptions and, even when heated, for both people to talk at once. The playwright also is very, very clever at writing voices for women and getting inside the characters.
Juliet Stevenson balances the role of the betrayed wife well, neither too unknowing or too angry. As she attacks her husband , she asks him to kiss her and he makes excuses not to, the pain and isolation of the rejected wife is clear even though there's no crying. Owen Teale is well cast as the unsatisfactory husband, evasive and exactly the kind of doctor, who might have been chosen for his rugby prowess rather than his communication skills, a man one does not want as one's doctor or even less one's husband. His tall good looks are deceptive as is Indira Varma's laid back appearance. Circumstances make her a victim even more so than the wife but the brashness of her performance ensures that she does not have our sympathy. The stone blunts the scissors.
Reminding us that we are in the country, Vicky Mortimer's set features silvery, bare branched trees suspended from the full height of the stage. The trunks dip into the room space which is a large room, almost bare with wooden floors and a few chairs. This is the space of country living but here it is meant to be an opportunity to save a marriage, ironically away from the crowded temptation of the city. All except the last scene take place in darkness with deep shadows, only the last revelatory scene is in daylight -- a visual metaphor. Each scene interval is accompanied by a percussion of sound, atmospheric, intensely modern music on the theme of scissors, paper and stone.
In the final scene, although everything seems to have returned to the status quo, nothing ever stays the same. The Country is a play which will continue to grow in fascination the more you think about it. I suspect a subsequent viewing would bring new revelations. I would welcome another chance to savour the fine performances, to enjoy the lightness of direction and the fresh dialogue.