Visiting a land in times gone by

Rob Callendar as Bennett

Rob Callendar excels as Bennett, the schoolboy finding himself. Pictures: Johan Persson

Another Country

Malvern Festival Theatre

****

ANOTHER Country introduces the audience to the world of an all-boys British public school in the 1930s. It is the world of prefects, of fags, of chapel services and the cane.

The sound effects used to introduce and bridge between scenes evoke these elements, in particular the cane, the historic bells and the sounds of students moving along corridors and across courtyards on their way to lessons.

This world is presented as one in which established traditions foster hypocritical and cynical attitudes; in this context homosexuality and political ideas are explored. We focus in on one particular house, Gascoigne’s, and especially on two students, Bennett and Judd.

Bennett is coming to terms with his sexuality as the play progresses; he is initially witty, cynical, clever in his subversive interjections and crude innuendoes, but, as he finds himself in love, he seems to find his identity and becomes confident in accepting who he finds himself to be while wrestling with the need to be covert about it in the world of his day.

Judd is similarly sharp intellectually but his character is more academic, theoretical and philosophical; he has adopted a clear Communist philosophy that is likewise subversive in the public school scene.

As the play develops the two seem to become closer and more identified in their alternative and radical world views, and distinct from the general chorus of the majority who sing a patriotic hymn at the opening and the closing of the play. Overall the world of the play is somewhat of a caricature that serves as a  Will Attenborough as Juddvehicle for a piece that is distinctly political in its import

This play is not exactly plot or story-driven; the action of the play is limited. It is more of a psycho-drama, a study of the breeding ground of subversive minds, such as the minds of the spy ring that developed in this period of our history that included Burgess, MacLean, Blunt and Philby.

 

Will Attenborough as Judd

 

This production was in the end gripping because of the very high standard of the acting. The timing, the portrayal of that type of public school boy, the language of that world were excellent and consistently maintained. There was humour, albeit cynical humour, laced through the whole piece.

The two leading actors Rob Callendar as Bennett and Will Attenborough as Judd were particularly strong; the former portrayed the pathos and inner struggle of his character with real poignancy and sensitivity in the second act.

The rest of the cast supported these two strongly, particularly Julian Wadham as Vaughan Cunningham.

The sound effects were clever in evoking, with the bells, the atmosphere of the historic public school, along with the sound of beatings. The set and design were excellent: the need to move from Common Room, to Prefects’ HQ, to dormitory and later the playing field required great flexibility; the oak-panelled walls captured the traditional scenes brilliantly. The changes were slick and well-managed. The cohesive, creative vision does great credit to director Jeremy Herrin and designer Peter McIntosh and their team.

Towards the end Bennett and Judd discuss the possibilities for them in their hypocritical world. ‘Either you accept the system or you try to change it’, proposes one of them. ‘Or both!’ the other replies in a sinister hint at the path chosen by the spies who later betrayed their country.

The audience was predominantly of an older generation who would recall the scandals of the Cambridge spies, but the political and social message of Julian Mitchell's play would certainly appeal to many of the younger generation in Britain today. To 05-07-14.

Tim Crowe

30-06-14 

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