“I’m not one of those goddam microphone actors,” says the main character of a washed-up alcoholic in Clifford Odets’ play which is currently revived in the West End starring Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove. The theme of Method acting is close to the heart of this play, first produced in 1950. Odets was one of the exponents of the American Method school, along with Lee Strasberg, and helped found the Group Theatre, basing its theory on Stanislavski’s techniques.

The play is set backstage in a theatre and is a study of a deluded alcoholic, Frank Elgin, a one-time big actor, who is given a last chance to prove himself in a lead role. He is not a microphone actor in the sense that he refuses to pull out of the bag a pre-formed act. But crippled by self-doubt, his fear is that he can’t pull it off without resorting to a drink.

Martin Shaw is an actor whose own acting style is also very much an instinctive one. Shaw has described the extremely ‘uncomfortable’ process of playing Elgin, of having to get into the skin of another man who is ambitious, yet fearful and selfish. Elgin wants the acclaim of the audience, but is afraid he won’t get it. The more self-obsessed he becomes, the less he can get into his role. He is a hard character with whom to sympathise and is superbly played by Shaw. His wife, Georgie, has failed to leave him because her own self-esteem relies on him needing her. She is the one who bears the brunt of the director blaming her for Elgin’s inevitable drinking, something she is ultimately powerless over. Jenny Seagrove’s portrayal convincingly represents the worn-down, controlled, yet despairing figure of his wife, trapped between his alcoholism and her attachment as his partner.

Compared with many West End productions, The Country Girl is more about talk than action. The depth of anxiety, conflict and denial portrayed between Elgin, his wife and the director is moving to the core. As a study of alcoholism, it is as fine a portrait as that depicted in the film The Lost Weekend, and often as difficult to watch, principally due to Martin Shaw’s towering performance. The Country Girl runs at the Apollo Theatre until February 26.