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Romance, scandal and two in-laws too many in The Countess



Review by Emma Whitelaw

PREVIOUSLY acclaimed in New York, Gregory Murphy’s The Countess is set to take London by a scandalous storm!

Based on one of the most notorious affairs in the 1800s, the exquisite Victorian drama revolves around the lives of visionary critic, John Ruskin, and his ever-increasingly disenchanted wife, Effie.

Accompanied by pre-Raphaelite painter, John Everett Millais, the unhappy couple take leave of the hustle and bustle of London town for the more idyllic surrounds of the Scottish Highlands.

Believing the sojourn will do their marriage the world of good, Effie leaves for Scotland in high spirits – little knowing that the husband of her dreams isn’t the one that she leaves with.

The fresh country air can do nothing to save their ill-fated marriage and they quarrel like never before.

The situation is only exacerbated by the presence of Millais. Not only does he disapprove of Ruskin’s strict ways and pompous superiority, he also adores and dotes on Effie.

Finding themselves in ever compromising positions, Effie and Millais do all they can to deny the feelings they share for one another.

Effie goes so far as to confide in her husband who does nothing to put a stop to it; instead, he repeatedly encourages the affair in a bid to justify his own cruelty.

Upon their return to London, all three find they can no longer refute their fate yet only two of them live happily ever after.

Nick Moran’s Ruskin is sublime. The Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels star has done well to rid himself of the two-bit geezer image and reinvent himself as a magisterial archetype.

Damian O’Hare gives an equally outstanding performance as Millais but it is Alison Pargeter’s Effie that steals the show.

Anyone coming to the performance with preconceptions of Eastenders mediocrity will soon have them quashed. Arguably wasted on the small screen, she is destined for big things on stage.

Gerald Harper and Jean Boht are just delightful as the incessantly interfering in-laws. As is Linda Thorson as Effie’s best friend and confidant, Lady Elizabeth Eastlake.

Commendation must also go to Jason Denvir’s set. Transforming itself fluidly from stately manor to luscious green landscape, it truly is a wonder to behold!

The costuming, too, was quite exquisite. Fashioned by Christopher Lione, the garments were true to both the period and the text.

A marvellous production, thoroughly enjoyed by all. I do hope the West End will be graced by the presence of this Countess for a long time to come!

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The Countess by Gregory Miller. Directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Starring Deirdra Morris, Chris Garwood, Nick Moran, Gerald Harper, Jean Boht, Edmund Kente, Linda Thorson, Damian O’Hare and Alison Pargeter. June 2 to September 17, 2005 at The Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly Circus, London W1. Box Office 0870 060 2313.

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