Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Review: Another Country

Man, I am so behind on my blogging. Sorrynotsorry about that. Expect a flurry in the next few days. Sorrynotsorry about that too I suppose.

Anyway, one of the reasons I've slipped a bit is I've actually been doing some exciting things. For a change. One of those was venturing to deepest darkest Whitehall to check out the Trafalgar Studios' production (a Chichester Festival transfer) of Another Country.

I'd like to think that my blog readership is sufficiently sophisticated to know a bit about Another Country. In case I'm wrong, the plot follows a group of public school boys - idealistic (trans: annoying) Judd and ambitious romantic Bennett - through a summer term in the 1930s. Both Judd (Marxist) and Bennett (gay) are outsiders and when a fellow pupil commits suicide after being caught in flagrante (LOVE that phrase) the ensuing scandal forces both of them to face up to their beliefs and make choices about their future. Or to put it more succinctly, it's a play about how The Cambridge Spies became The Cambridge Spies.

The play - and its film version - is probably most famous for the careers it helped to launch: Kenneth Branagh and Rupert Everett got their big breaks as Judd and Bennett respectively in the original play, Colin Firth took over Branagh's role in the subsequent film. 

The young cast in this production do a very respectable job of filling those colossal shoes. Will Attenborough (Richard's grandson, if you were wondering) is good as a character who I find one of the least sympathetic in any play ever written. His Judd is suitably annoyingly earnest and stubborn, and he plays the rare softer moments well. For me, Rob Callender's Bennett steals the show. He's by turns very funny, touchingly in love and genuinely outraged. The moment when he's told that his membership of the elite '22' group of prefects has been given to a less rebellious, 'insider' classmate is particularly effective. His anger at his treatment is pitch perfect and you can really start to see how boys like him betrayed their country and became spies. 

This is when the play is at its strongest too - really dealing with the issues of betrayal and 'outsiderness' which it explores explicitly but with subtlety - rather than poking fun at public school banter. The latter is done amusingly, but is just less interesting. The pacing of this production predominantly leaves the exploration of its theme until the second act making the production feel a bit, well, wonky for want of a better word. Otherwise it's very well done - the scenery is clever in its minimalism, the lighting and sound are both very effective and the direction, pacing issue aside, is very well done. 

Definitely worth a watch then, with one health warning. The Trafalgar Studios is a small space that puts on some really interesting stuff but sweet Jesus is it uncomfortable. Seriously guys, arm rests! A bit more legroom! It's not difficult. But, yeah, go and see Another Country anyway. 

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