A Month in the Country
Adapted from the novel by J. L Carr and directed by Nobby Dimon
North Country Theatre
Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, N. Yorkshire
North Country Theatre is a rare bird among the flocks of privileged acting companies in Britain today. After losing his Arts Council funding, director Nobby Dimon was determined to survive and managed to secure ‘crowd funding’ from the Angels of the North as he calls the people who donate. There is something delightfully accessible about his creations too and his latest adaptation is a thought-provoking tribute to writer and novelist J. L. Carr, whose novel A Month in the Country searches for a kind of survival too.
From the old suitcases of his past, Tom Birkin, a World War 1 veteran, slowly reveals his old trench coat, a leather apron and a journal with a rose preserved among its pages. The delicate paper rose brings the people from his memory into sharp focus and they begin to arrive.
It’s Yorkshire and the stationmaster at Oxgodby Station surprisingly welcomes Birkin with an almost incomprehensible accent, perceptively delivered by Nobby Dimon’s Ellerbeck. Of course, Ellerbeck knows that Birkin has been employed to uncover a mural in the tiny church. After all Oxgodby in the early 1900s is a small gossip filled village where everyone knows everything that goes on.
Barnard Castle scenic artist Simon Pell has surpassed himself with the most glorious church which sits centre stage like a photograph from the past. The single turret magically opens up to reveal the inside complete with oak beams and scaffolding against the wall where the mural is thought to exist.
Mark Cronfield’s tentative Birkin would probably be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress had he lived in this century. His stuttering and quietness slows the pace of the production down to village time as he meets up with fellow veteran Moon (William Vasey) who is also a veteran employed to search for a burial site outside the church walls.
There's an outstanding performance with tons of energy from Ashley Tucker as Kathy Ellerbeck, who adds some much needed pace to the production. She’s also pretty darn good as the Vicar’s wife, Alice Keach, and I’m not surprised that Birkin secretly falls in love with her.
A beautiful choice of incidental music with the use of Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending adds a real English country village feel to the production; I could almost smell the hay meadows.
Thomas Frere’s grumpy vicar was fab, and the scene in the village pub that cleverly used the church pew is delightful. The storyline has a few quite unexpected twists and turns and, as the church wall reveals a beautiful fresco painted centuries ago, a mystery is uncovered prompted by a crude addition to the painting of a man falling - to say more would spoil the rest of the play.
I do feel that the set opened and closed far too many times, which slowed the pace to a standstill on occasions spoiling the rhythm of the piece, but then I freely admit that I have an aversion to the constant moving around of stage furniture.
However, this was opening night and the company is about to set off on a 46 performance tour of the region and I’m sure the cast will pick up the pace and perhaps they’ll be able to leave the set in its open position a little more.
Reviewer: Helen Brown