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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
ANOTHER COUNTRY
at Trafalgar Studios

OPPRESSIVE CONSERVATISM
By KATE BASSETT

  Will Attenborough and Rob Callender/ Ph: Johan Persson

Julian Mitchell was inspired to write Another Country after Sir Anthony Blunt was shockingly unmasked, in 1979, as the fourth man in Britain’s notorious Cambridge spy ring. The august art historian and Establishment insider – knighted in the 50s by the Queen, in part for his services to the royal household – was revealed to have been yet another double agent, recruited by MI5 but also passing information to the Soviet Union during World War II, along with Guy Burgess, Kim Philby and Donald McClean.
 
Revived by director Jeremy Herrin and enjoying a West End transfer (co-produced by Chichester Festival Theatre, Bath Theatre Royal and Fiery Angel Partners), Mitchell’s play contemplates what might have seeded Burgess and company's closet subversiveness, prior to their Cambridge University days. It points the finger of blame at the snobbery and oppressive conservatism, the homophobia and the hypocrisies that were institutionalized in 1930s English public (i.e. upper crust) schools and, subsequently, in the country’s ruling class.
 
Played here by the very assured newcomer and baby-faced pretty boy Rob Callender, the fictional teenage protagonist Guy Bennett is viciously punished and excluded from a clique of top-dog school prefects for being flamboyantly gay. As a result, at the close, it looks as if he may retaliate by duplicitously seeming to conform whilst discretely turning to the rebellious creed of his misfit classmate Judd (Will Attenborough), who’s a studious communist.
 
Arguably, Another Country isn’t as dated as one might expect, given that today’s UK cabinet is dominated by public-school alumni, and their ilk’s continuing routes to dominance have been scrutinized in recent plays including James Graham’s Tory Boyz and Laura Wade’s Posh. School pupils driven to suicidal despair by bullying is, moreover, a widespread contemporary problem, albeit with the forum now more commonly being Internet chat rooms and social media sites than oak-paneled libraries.
 
This production, in period costume, is handsomely designed by Peter McKintosh with sliding walls, fast-receding perspectives and brilliantly fleet scene changes. 
Many of Herrin’s cast members are fresh out of drama school and highly commendable, and Another Country is known for launching careers (not least Kenneth Branagh, Rupert Everett, Colin Firth and Daniel Day-Lewis). 
 
By way of qualification, though, Attenborough might have flecked Judd’s dogged Marxist preaching with more adolescent fervour and flashes of naivety. Callender would, in turn, be more engaging if, rather than just firing off Bennett’s quips, he visibly enjoyed sharing a bonding sense of humour with Judd. The real stars of the show are, in fact, Mark Quartley, who is heartbreaking as Barclay – the gentle-souled and conscience-racked head prefect – and veteran Julian Wadham. He plays the suave Bloomsbury aesthete, Vaughan Cunningham, who visits the boys, enjoys holding forth and, on the quiet, promises to introduce Bennett to a whole new scene in London.
 
 

Kate Bassett is a theatre critic for The Times of London. She also writes for theartsdesk.com.

 


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