Martin Shaw finally is back to London’s West End. And with the marvellous Jenny Seagrove to boot! There are not enough exclamation marks to insert here in the world! And so it was no surprise that I booked the next available – and affordable – flight to come to London one cold and frosty day.
The Country Girl by Clifford Odette is – despite its large cast – basically a two actor’s play; the stronger the leading couple, the more intense the impact of the story they tell. It’s all about Frank Elgin – literally -, a washed out actor battling alcoholism and his fears of failure in the face of a last chance that came when a young director, Dodd, demanded him for a leading part in a new play. And so Elgin is once again on stage, trying to remember his lines, trying to cope with what he perceives as injustices or mere inconveniences. And of course he cannot say anything to the director, the writer, the producer himself as he wants to stay the marvellous leading man, the stage hero who has merely fallen on bad fortune for a while. It doesn’t keep him from complaining to his long suffering wife Georgie – the girl he took from the “country” (the term standing not only for a geographic point in the world but also for “not in the business”, for “less educated” and less suave and refined than he and his theatre friends) and married her.
And it is up to her to fight his battles – she is the one talking to producers, the writer, the director in order to face their wrath and their hostility, playing scapegoat and whipping boy for the star to make her husband look good. When director Dodd finally sees through these games, he falls hard for the country girl, finding a smart, educated and fiercely loyal woman who battles her own demons without any help from the outside.
It is when Georgie, too, finds she has feelings for Dodd that the almost sickly symbiotic dependency between the actor and his wife comes to the fore. Both need the battles they fight with each other and with the outside world. It is the only kind of happiness they ever have and will experience. The great Frank Elgin will always need someone to stand up for him so that he can shine on stage and his country girl will always be the one needing him to shine – even at the price of devoting her own life solely to this one purpose.
I read a review prior to seeing the play where some long time fan of Martin Shaw’s complained that he seemed old and washed out to her. And indeed he was – it is part of the play that he look tired and desperate and slightly drunk and unkempt. For the time of the play he really IS the needy, insecure actor who never grew up, who at times needs a mother more than a lover. And Jenny Seagrove is the quiet, silently suffering and yet strong counterpart who keeps him in line and in charge and has his back no matter what the consequences foro herself. These two actors together on stage are simply amazing. There is a crackling tension between these two that reaches out to the audience and draws them in and makes them question every decision made on stage – and to a certain degree even makes you as the one watching question some decisions you yourself have made lately.
Stagedoor: Martin Shaw is a “late arriver” which means he doesn’t have the time to sign when he’s rushing in to work. He did very graciously sign after the performance even though he didn’t come out after the matinee I saw. Jenny Seagrove arrived on bike, very unglamorous and plain (her transformation into Georgie on stage therefore even more stunning) and patiently talked to everyone waiting while signing cards and programs. She is one incredibly classy actress and incredibly talented, too.