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,
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
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
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
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!
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.