Review: The Country Girl, at Malvern Festival Theatre
Decades pass between opportunities to see plays by American dramatist Clifford Odets on the West Midlands stage.
The last one, as far as I can remember, was Bill Alexander’s production of Awake and Sing at Birmingham Rep in 1994. So this rare revival of Odets’ 1950 Broadway hit would be a collector’s item for theatre buffs.
One of the fascinations of The Country Girl is that it takes place within the theatre world. Its self-referential format, with a crew of 1950s American stagehands changing sets in a 21st century British theatre, is wonderfully evocative in this production by Rufus Norris.
Bernie Dodd, an abrasive young director, wants to cast Frank Elgin, once a great actor but now an alcoholic has-been, in a new play. His producer is unconvinced, and a replacement is literally hovering in the wings as the play prepares for its pre-Broadway try-out in Boston.
Bernie misinterprets Frank’s relationship with his wife Georgie, taking her to be the cause of his downfall. When he eventually realises his mistake he also discovers his true feelings for Georgie, so the final question is not only whether Frank will survive the play but which two of the three main characters will be leaving together.
Frank and Georgie’s fascinating relationship draws two performances of award-winning quality from Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove.
Shaw, whom it is easy to think of simply as a familiar TV actor, is revealed as a stage performer with an Albert Finney-like presence.
In contrast, Jenny Seagrove’s beautiful performance is quiet and understated but rings throughout with the truth of what being shackled by love to a devious alcoholic must mean.
Among the supporting roles I loved Peter Harding’s company manager, a portrait of old-fashioned theatrical grace and dignity which convinced me utterly of its authenticity.
* The Country Girl has now moved to the Hippodrome Theatre, where it shows until September 18