The Country

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

01/07/2006 - 29/07/2006

Production Details

By Martin Crimp
Directed by Jane Waddell

Set designer: John Hodgkins
Lighting designer: Jennifer Lal

Circa is very excited to welcome New Zealand audiences to the superbly sinister world of ‘Crimpland’.

Martin Crimp is one of Britain’s most exciting contemporary playwrights, and The Country  is a masterful work of taut, intriguing drama fraught with deception and an unsettling Pinteresque menace.

Richard and Corinne have escaped the city for a life of bliss in the country. But an ominous sense of danger is aroused when Richard rescues a young woman from the roadside.  

A who-dun-it as well as a dun-what-where, The Country focuses on the quietly unravelling relationship of a couple caught in a world of dark fears, fierce emotions and wild desires.

A subtle and intimate thriller The Country is a chilling, suggestive chamber piece, that irresistibly brings Harold Pinter’s plays to mind dealing, as it does, with games of power and sexual politics, uncovering another side of ‘idyllic’ rural life.

Martin Crimp is highly acclaimed in England and Europe for his playwriting skills, and in The Country he excels at demonstrating an absolute mastery of dramatic structure.

Revelations, some of them devastating, come to light almost accidentally, but accumulate to build up a second version of reality in our imaginations.

The flair and crystal clarity of his use of language mean that the spoken words become a delicately maintained pattern which functions as a disguise, while still allowing one to feel the weight of what is unsaid and the power that people wield by holding information in reserve.

The Country is a tantalizing and powerful play that provides an evening of fascinating and compelling theatre

The Country
Opens SATURDAY 1st July at 7.30pm
and runs until 29th July 2006

$20 SUNDAY  SPECIAL:  Sunday 2nd July – 4.30pm
AFTER-SHOW FORUM:  Tuesday 4th July

Performance times:
Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 4.30pm

Prices:  $35 Adults;$28  Students, Senior Citizens and Beneficiaries;
$30 Groups 6+;  $18  Student Standby – from 1 hour before the show
Circa Two  special – SUB 25s only $20

BOOKINGS: CIRCA Theatre,  1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Phone 801 7992

Malcolm Murray
Heather O'Carroll 
Carol Smith

Theatre ,

Doctor's shocking secret

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 03rd Jul 2006

Martin Crimp’s fine play The Country is a taut, teasing eighty minute drama set in a converted granary that is now the new home of a doctor and his wife and two children. Richard and Corinne have retreated to the country to start afresh, renew their marriage, and find the same sort of harmony in life that Richard’s unseen medical partner, Maurice, appears to find in the poetry of Virgil, which extols the rural life and the beauty of nature.

But it is clear from the opening moments of the play in Jane Waddell’s forceful production, when we see Corinne nervously cutting out pictures from a magazine, that all is not well. Her conversation with her husband is sharp and sniping, while he remains cool, enigmatic, but smiling uneasily. Slowly it becomes clear that Corinne has reason for being suspicious; sleeping in a spare bedroom is a young woman Richard claims he found lying unconscious on the road when he was driving home.

The young woman, Rebecca, is an American, studying history in England. Sparks fly in her confrontation with Corinne, whom we have seen stands for scissors and cutting while Rebecca is as cold and hard as stone. Richard is as soft as paper and his medical ethics appear to be even weaker. This three-handed game unravels when Corinne spills the contents of Rebecca’s handbag on the floor.

Overlapping dialogue, verbal repetitions and echoes, playing with the meaning of words (sententiousness/ complicit/ track) and sharp, edgy speeches are all part and parcel of Crimp’s technique that keeps one constantly alert and intrigued as one pieces together this enigmatic play that is crystallised by Rebecca when she says at one point that the more you talk, the less you say.

There is, however, nothing enigmatic about the final scene in which Carol Smith as Corinne brings the play to an emotionally devastating conclusion in a superb performance that started with a mannered, Coward-like flippancy that hides her anger and pain. Heather O’Carroll brings to Rebecca a youthful defiance and an American brashness that are absolutely right for the role, while Malcolm Murray’s weak, smiling, shifty doctor completes this excellently cast and subtlety and powerfully performed eternal triangle.


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Enigmatic, intriguing - and allegorical?

Review by John Smythe 02nd Jul 2006

Two questions preoccupy us as we emerge from The Country: What really happened? What is it really about? And after we’ve wrestled with those for a bit, we have to ask if we trust this work to deliver answers. Is it the journey, perhaps, rather than the destination that determines where the value lies?

Based on the classic ‘eternal triangle’ – one man, two women – the scenario is not dissimilar to Stephen Sinclair’s Drawer of Knives, performed in April in the same space. (While I can fully appreciate why Martin Crimp is being touted as the hot new name in contemporary British playwrighting, and agree it’s great we’re getting a taste of him, I remain bemused by our own inability to get just as excited about Stephen Sinclair. But that’s by the bye.)

Craft-wise The Country is a masterful exercise in intrigue and enigmatic gamesmanship that challenges director, actors and audiences alike. Director Jane Waddell and her cast of three do great justice to a taut text that is as much about what is not said and seen as what is.

A couple – Corrine (Carol Smith) and Richard (Malcolm Murray) – have moved, with their children (unseen) from the city to the country, in the north of England if one assumes the wall they mention more than once is Hadrian’s.

As the play opens in a sparsely furnished room of their new home – a converted granary, we find out later – Corrine is cutting pictures from a magazine with nail scissors. It soon emerges that Richard, a doctor, has apparently respected his Hippocratic oath and/or played Good Samaritan by rescuing an unconscious woman from the side of the road on a wet and wintry night. But it’s not as simple as that …

It is some time before Rebecca (Heather O’Carroll) emerges. She’s American, something of a free spirit … and to reveal much more would spoil the play for those who go. Suffice to say that it becomes clear that true ‘freedom’ is not compatible with addiction.

In the process of radically changing our perceptions of ‘reality’, each two-hander scene is played out according to the principles of Paper-Scissors-Stone. One option for the viewer, then, as the 80 sharply honed minutes unfold, is to work out who is which in each scene, according to who wins that ’round’.

Eventually – not for the first time and probably not for the last – the Corrine-Richard relationship hits the wall. And I have to ask, does “the wall” have meaning in drug culture? (Certainly drugs had a role in The Wall that fictional rock star Pink Floyd tried to hide behind …) These are not idle thoughts; the text is riddled with drug culture language: stone, track, pure …

Reference to Virgil’s idealised view of ‘the country’ is contrasted with the idea that the ‘natural’ countryside, unspoiled by the presence of Man, may be found in a barren expanse of shale (a stone that splinters easily). The repeated notion that purity – as in pure water – has no smell is also intriguing. Is this why we are so self destructive?

Another recurring line (there are many) is, “Kiss me” followed by, “I already have,” opening the door to eternal questions about ‘love’. Wherever else the play reaches, it is relationships that compact at its nucleus it and keep it coherent, if hard to pin down.

But if, in essence, it is about relationship addiction and abuse, why is it called The Country? And why is Rebecca American? Could it, perhaps, be seen an allegory for the compulsive yet corrosive relationship Britain and the USA seem addicted to: a defining characteristic of today’s world? If so, how might we interpret Rebecca’s eventual disappearance from the equation?

Literally as well as figuratively there are more questions than answers in Martin Crimp’s script. Characters are constantly asking them of each other. Those we might, then, ask ourselves include: What should we make of Morris, Richard’s Latin-spouting practice partner, who always seems to turn up at strategic (off stage) moments? What about Sophie, who readily takes the children and seems upset at being paid to babysit? Is she there as the kind-hearted counterpoint to the on-stage characters who, for all their passions, treat each other as objects? As for the nameless children themselves …

In John Hodgkins’ hewn post and white panelled set, which ingeniously makes the small Circa Two stage look vast, is the complete absence of any visual evidence of children an oversight or part of the play? Either way, I find myself unconvinced of their existence.

Another superb lighting plot from Jennifer Lal captures key moments of isolation, insulation and desolation, often enhanced by a wintry soundscape created by Morgan Samuel and Jane Waddell.

Malcolm Murray’s Richard brings to mind Hamlet’s observation that one may smile and smile and be a villain. There is almost always a glint on these still waters and if a cloud passes over, the shadow it casts is fleeting. Hero? Hedonist? Hopeless deceiver? Through every transition he is entirely believable.

Making a welcome return to a Wellington stage, Carol Smith – who, coincidentally, has just played the Player in Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Court – is totally compelling as the wife seeking a fresh start in the country (although the writing won’t let me believe a whole family is at stake). Her tenacity in defending her territory and/or turning a blind eye to ‘reality’ in order to reclaim what she believes is hers becomes darkly fascinating to behold.

Heather O’Carroll – who is responsible for getting Crimp’s The Country to this country for the first time – makes Rebecca’s self-serving insularity and ruthless honesty unnervingly true. Her power comes not from being sneaky or devious but from her total confidence in herself, and therefore her right to manipulate anyone and everything to feed her own desires. (No wonder I see the play as an allegory!)

Again – as with TROY The Musical at Circa One and The Goat at Downstage – I have the sense that all the actors, directors and designers are turning in their best work. All I can do is urge all Wellingtonians and visitors to Wellington to make a point of seeing them all. Pretend it’s a festival if you must, just go!


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