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Review: The Country

Adelaide Festival

Combining the world-class talents of British playwright Martin Crimp and Australian avant-garde theatre company Stone/Castro, The Country delivers on every level and leaves its audience awestruck.

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GP Richard (Nathan O’Keefe) and his wife Corinne (Jo Stone) have moved to the country with their children, hoping for a new start in an idyllic rural setting.

But things begin to go awry when Richard brings home an unconscious woman, Rebecca (Natalia Sledz), who he claims to have found lying in a ditch at the side of the road.

As the drama unfolds, lies and deceptions are exposed and the dream of a blissful life in the country dissolves into chaotic nightmare.

For the most part, the play follows a standard five-act structure, but the game of “scissors, paper, stone” is used to add an extra dimension. In each of the acts, only two characters are on stage and through their interaction the game unfolds with Corinne as scissors, Richard as paper, Rebecca as stone.

This is one of many threads in an intricately woven script that wraps the audience in a blanket of metaphor so dense it’s impossible to unpick in one sitting. It’s a bold comparison, but the writing is so rich and multi-textured it’s reminiscent of Shakespeare.

However, what turns this from a cleverly written play into a piece of theatrical magic is the talents of the members of the production team.

David Lampard’s extraordinary set adds depth and meaning to the performance. What at first appears to be a cut-out of a map is later revealed to be the torn edges of stripped-away wallpaper. Underneath it, the exposed lathes of the plaster walls form a cage in which the characters must perform.

Daniel Barber’s innovative lighting is crucial throughout, constantly creating additional nuance by illuminating the foundations of the house at a point where domestic stability is under threat, or floodlighting characters off stage so that only their shadows appear on the set.

The script is not an easy one to deliver, but Stone, O’Keefe and Sledz give remarkable performances which keep the audience utterly engaged. And under Paulo Castro’s direction, the play becomes a masterful visual composition with characters trapped, together or alone, in boxed-off areas of the stage, almost dancing together as they reel and collide physically and verbally.

Ultimately it’s hard to fault this damn-near flawless production. Beautifully written, boldly directed, superbly staged and performed, it’s everything you want from theatre. Whatever you do, don’t miss your chance to see it.

The Country is playing at the State Opera Studio, Marion Road, until March 13.

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