Tag Archives: Trafalgar Studios

Apologia – Trafalgar Studios

Apologia - Trafalgar Studios

In the UK, we take most of our daily rights and freedoms for granted and forget the hard-won struggles that brought us the right to vote, to work, to design our lives however we choose. “Millennials” are also a generation that grew up a step removed from the experience and consequences of European warfare, the long-term effects of which were felt first-hand by our grandparents and through them our parents’ generation who took to social protests to overcome the economic and political downturn the Second World War created.

Alexei Kaye Campbell’s play Apologia is all about this generational struggle within a family divided by the external world they grew-up in which shapes their attitude to each other and the parent-child relationship. Our childhood determines the type of adult we become, but Campbell’s play argues that this has varied across the Twentieth-century and makes it considerably harder to understand each other. Someone growing up in the 1960s has a very different idea of what the world could and should be than someone raised in the 1990s.This separation of perspective casts a dark shadow over the play and defines its central relationship between an absent mother and her stolen children.

Respected art historian Kristin invites her adult sons, their girlfriends and her gay best friend to celebrate her birthday with a dinner at her tasteful country home. But relations are strained between the family as Kristin’s recent memoir “Apologia” entirely omits her children Simon and Peter from the story of her life. Frustrated by what they see as her absence, both are determined to have it out with her, while their respective partners Claire the actress and the American-Christian Trudi clash with Kristin over their own lifestyle choices. As the evening unfolds family tensions simmer and it becomes clear that the boys don’t understand their mother at all.

Jamie Lloyd’s direction tends to be love-it or hate-it and Apologia along with his previous works The Ruling Class, Faustus and The Maids has divided critical opinion. I’m in the love-it camp because risky approaches designed to entice new audiences is something London theatre needs as much as the reverent recreation of classic texts. Faustus in particular had many detractors but it’s grotty hyperrealism was a pointed comment about our obsession with transitory fame, empty celebrity and meaningless status, which for many feels like the only escape from a future of limited opportunity, unemployment and purposelessness.

Asking James McAvoy to ride around on a unicycle in his pants or Kit Harrington to take a “blood shower” are part of bigger conversation Lloyd is having with audiences about the changing nature of the modern world and how we engage with it. So, it is in this space that Lloyd meets Campbell and with a text full of skirmishes between past and present, of people born decades apart who can’t quite reach each other, Lloyd directs with considerable understatement that allows the rising and falling waves of family tensions to determine the pace of the show.

At the core of the play is the idea that the post-1980s generation are self-centred, caring only about making money and protecting their own individuality and status, without a thought for the good of society, and Kristin virtually says as much as she locks horns with Simon’s girlfriend Claire. Her youth and indeed the rest of her life was spent protesting for anyone who needed help – an idea Claire finds ‘quaint’ – and we begin to see Campbell’s point that whatever road you take there is a cost. Acknowledging that ‘having it all’ is a media myth, women have long struggled with the balance between family and work, and been severely judged either way.

For the women of the 1960s being the first to really forge careers, enjoy political, social and sexual freedoms, and live in relative economic stability, some experienced a domestic cost in the proximity to their families. Stockard Channing, returning to the West End for the first time in 25 years, gives Kristin a somewhat hard surface, a testament to a life spent earning a respected position as an art historian and politicised figure. The result was having her pre-teen sons taken from her by her former husband, and although they are now back in touch, an air of resentment and abandonment persists within the family.

At the start of the play, Kristin is given a tribal mask by Peter and Trudi, and while it’s a none-too subtle dramatic device, we watch Kristin’s own mask slip during the dinner party and its aftermath. Channing makes this a compelling and skilled unwrapping of a woman who neither knows nor cares what effect she has on others. Frequently when told something about her character, her only disinterested reply is “do I,” and this Kristin is forever controlled, even in criticism she barely raises her voice, preferring to leave the room than rant and rave.

However, formidable and cutting she may be – and her barbed retorts aimed at Claire and Trudi are a well-timed comedy highlight – underneath the hard-shell Channing’s Kristin has suffered for her work. As the initial awkwardness of the reunion turns to outright enmity from her sons, Channing reveals a regret and fear for her children that elicit considerable sympathy, that this accident of history, of being a woman of her time, has led to unbreachable divisions in her family.

And while we eventually learn what really happened when the children were removed from her care, Channing ensures that Kristin is not entirely let off the hook, that her decision to pursue her work has affected her sons’ lives irreparably. The audience is left knowing that although the truth has finally emerged, no one feels any better for it, and much of this is due to the clever ambiguity of Channing’s performance that gives an apologia, a defence of herself, but not an apology for it.

Joseph Millson plays both Peter and Simon, who through another slightly unlikely dramatic device, are never seen together, and leads to a moment of confusion about the position of the interval as Millson rapidly changes costume for his one scene as Simon. Peter is given more stage time and has clearly coped better with the lack of engagement with his mother, but has built up a bitter resentment about the memoir that explodes at dinner. Millson commands the stage and fills it with a lifetime of anguish but it’s clear Peter isn’t there to find redemption but out of duty on his mother’s birthday.

Simon whose emotional problems stem entirely from childhood does come seeking answers and again Millson is impressive as the more fragile brother in what becomes a tender duologue between mother and child. Simon’s girlfriend Claire (Freema Agyeman) is never seen with him, but battles with Kristin repeatedly about the work she does and her lifestyle. Agyeman makes Claire smug, attention-seeking and unphased by the slights of her near mother-in-law, but Claire becomes the exact counterpoint to Kristin that Campbell and Lloyd want us to see, a product of her time that, despite a small monologue about her own upbringing, is interested in vacuous fame and status only for the self.

Laura Carmichael’s Trudi is initially seen as the opposite, a good natured Christian girl absolutely out of her depth intellectually and emotionally in the charged family atmosphere. And while Kristin’s attacks make her see her life differently, the two form a respect of sorts that add nuance to what could have been a slightly two-dimensional role. Carmichael delivers a cleverly ditzy performance that balances the comic timing with a sense of the innocent bystander trying to keep the peace.

The themes of the play are pronounced in Soutra Gimour’s (a long-term Lloyd collaborator) set that eschews an art strewn household for a cosy kitchen almost devoid of any paintings, save for a few postcards pinned to the fridge door. The emphasis is on the family dramas rather than Kristin’s career, but Gilmour sets the whole production on a raised proscenium arch, surrounded by a picture-frame adding to the discussion about the boundary between life and art that feeds through the production.

Apologia is not perfect, and at times overly reliant on worn scenarios and coincidences that are a little jarring, but there is an intensity to the writing that well captures the difficult balance of engagement that typify family life. And while the presence of Channing anchors the production with a pitch-perfect performance full of emotional uncertainty, the surrounding cast members are given equal opportunity to shine. More than anything, we see the problematic balance between nature and nurture at the heart of Campbell’s play that shows we are as much a product of social, political and cultural forces of the era we’re born as we are the people who raise us, making the generational divide within families much harder to breach.

Apologia is at the Trafalgar Studios until 18 November. Tickets start at £35. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1


No Villain – Trafalgar Studios

No Villain - Trafalgar Studios by Cameron Harle

Arthur Miller could easily be considered America’s greatest twentieth-century playwright were it not for the likes of Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, contemporaries of Miller, who arguably also deserve that accolade. Miller though has rarely been out of fashion and his plays that so often focus on working men and the problems of industry have struck a particular chord in London’s West End in our current age of austerity. It would be too simplistic to see the almost outrageous success of the Young Vic’s A View from the Bridge – which earned a shed-load of UK awards before adding more at the most recent Tony’s on Broadway and some days I might even admit it was best thing I’d ever seen in the West End – as the cause of a fresh round of Miller-mania but with high profile versions of classics The Crucible at the Old Vic, and the RSC’s Death of Salesman, the appetite for Miller’s work is as strong as ever.

Wonderful then to be offered something entirely new. While rooting around in the archives of the University of Michigan, director Sean Turner unearthed Miller’s very first play written in 1936 when he was at College thrown together in just six days. Not performed for 80 years, No Villain was created solely to win a cash prize to allow Miller to continue with his studies, and duly awarded the play was cast aside. It received its premiere at the Old Red Lion theatre in Angel earlier this year before transferring to the Trafalgar Studios for the next couple of months.

An undiscovered play is like a treasure trove for theatre lovers, one that hints at the genius to come while telling us much more about the author’s process, idea formation and route to success. No Villain is the story of the Simon family and in what would become a commonplace model for Miller, it is concerned with the relationship between a father and his two sons, one doing all the work while the other is the favourite. There’s industrial unrest at the factory preventing the Simons from shipping their fur coats to buyers and Miller’s early flirtation with concepts of Communism are used to amplify both the generational gap between the managerial father and his worker sons, as well as dividing the brothers as Arnie’s intellectualism is pitted against Ben’s practical application of Communist principles at work.

But the play opens with domestic concerns as the family sit around late one night waiting for Arnie to return home from College. He’s told his mother Esther he’ll get the bus or hitch-hike aiming to be home around 11.30pm, but being of a somewhat hysterical nature her anxiety increases with every minute and begins to work herself and her family to a pitch of agitation. Nesba Crenshaw makes Esther permanently panic-stricken and constantly on edge, so even after her family is reunited we see the endless worry about factory finances, her husband’s ability to cope and her ailing father who’s come to stay. Her lot in life is to worry about men while never fully cutting the apron strings for her sons – she seems to have no concern at all for her teenage daughter – and this leads to considerable moments of tension and frustration for them as she pesters and nags them until they crave peace elsewhere.

Patriarch Abe Simon feels like an early draft of Miller’s famous salesman Willy Lowman and the relationship with his sons is similar fraught. Like his wife, Abe is afraid of the future, of progress and even technology which the thread of Communism seems to imply. Part of that fear comes from knowing his business was already ailing before the strike amplified his difficulties and that a time is coming when he will be replaced by a younger generation. In David Bromley’s performance we see that Abe relies heavily on his son Ben who seems the only one capable of practical action, even needing him to work the telephone for him, yet at the same time Bromley shows us Abe’s fear of his children, of their new world view and growing inability to control them. Miller was fascinated by father-son relationships and this one helps us to see that the transition from child to adult is a difficult one for a father to oversee as the son begins to excel and surpass his parent.

George Turvey is excellent as the world-weary Ben trying to balance filial duty with his belief in his greater business sense and the knowledge that the family prefer his brother Arnie. We’re given hints that Ben too was at College once, although whether he completed his studies or sacrificed them to join the family business as his dad wishes is unclear. Turvey’s Ben is also engaged in a constant battle – much like his mother – shouldering both the primary burden of the flailing business as he negotiates with banks and suppliers to save his father from the truth, but also acting a crutch for the family, often taking the lead on decision-making and calming the worries of his more emotional parents. But Ben is also kind and we hear not only of his sympathy for the workers but, in a throw-away moment, his attempts to pay them during the strike, showing that while his family cling avidly to every last inch of the past, Ben is bravely accepting and almost welcoming of a different future.

The rest of the characters are a little thinner and as you could expect from such an early work, Miller’s inexperience is most obvious here. Arnie played engagingly by Alex Forsyth keeps everyone waiting for some time at the start, building up an idea of his importance to the story that is never properly realised. He makes for a great contrast with his brother – brain against brawn – but never feels anything more than a pen sketch of something that should be much deeper given how other characters refer to him. There is a daughter Maxine whose minor appearances involve giggling, being indulged by her father and being sent to another room, and a resident Jewish grandparent who adds to the crush in the Simon household but Miller doesn’t use this third generation to make any further points about changing expectations of masculinity or even the challenges of their faith.

No Villain is understandably a tad incomplete as a play but this production nonetheless proves to be an engaging and insightful 80 minutes. While Miller’s early attempt to blend politics and domestic drama are somewhat cruder than his later work, the genesis of his approach to playwriting and the formation of idea and character are fascinating. Turner’s vision of a family in decline and the economic effects of the Depression Era are not only brilliantly realised but couldn’t be more timely. As a result of the recent referendum, the UK is now on the edge of its own precipice and the as yet unknown consequences will be felt for many years to come. In this context, the staging of Miller’s first play feels astonishingly relevant.

No Villain is at the Trafalgar Studios until 23 July. Tickets are £15-£30. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1


The Homecoming – Trafalgar Studios

Jamie Lloyd Theatre Company, Trafalgar Studios

Home sweet home’, ‘home is where the heart is’, ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’. Home is a place we all like to be; on a cold winter’s day we can’t wait to get in or if we’re abroad for a protracted period of time we long to return. It’s a place of solace, safety, often of family and respite, territorially ours, come what may. In The Homecoming now revived by Jamie Lloyd at the Trafalgar Studios, Pinter plays with these notions of home and family showing us that our origins can be as poisonous as they are restorative, a place where you return not just to the home you once knew but also to yourself and the person you’ve been trying to escape from.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Homecoming so this production celebrates Pinter’s acclaimed play with a star-studded interpretation. And having started the year with the deliciously dark The Ruling Class – with a serenely madcap performance from James McAvoy – Jamie Lloyd productions neatly book-end my theatrical year. But Pinter and I have never really gotten along; I enjoyed Betrayal but couldn’t quite get to grips with No Man’s Land, there’s something about the rhythm of Pinter, with its surreal plot twists and grubby interplay, which just didn’t quite fit with me. Never one to give up entirely, I’m glad I gave this a go – I may not be exactly converted but this is a chilling, sinister and intense production that is a fine birthday tribute to a landmark play.

Teddy returns to his London home with his wife Ruth. Married for 6 years but living in America as a university lecturer, Teddy’s family has never met his wife or even knows of her existence until one night when everyone has gone to bed they turn up unannounced on the doorstep for a flying visit. But this is no ordinary family – Max the patriarch still attempting to rule his home with an iron fist, flits between missing his long-dead wife and despising her; Lenny the middle son is a man of the world, a wheeler dealer with less than savoury connections; Joey is the youngest, a boxer who Max thinks will make it big, and Sam (Max’s brother) is the only one with a defined job as a well-respected and much requested chauffeur. The entrance of Ruth into this utterly male world both unpicks the existing dynamics and fills a void over the course of two days. But Teddy’s neat and elegant wife isn’t all she seems, Ruth has come home too.

As with all of Soutra Gilmore’s work the first thing you’ll notice about this play is the design – with the houselights up it’s a black, sparse but elegant looking 60s home with sideboard and chair. In the centre is the throne, Max’s armchair which denotes his status in the house – 2 seats in the whole room. It all looks stylishly 60s, containing the characters in a red-framed room that recedes back to the pivotal front door. But then the stage lights come on and suddenly it looks much grubbier, well used and soiled – a reflection of the family morality within. It’s a very unsettling male world that contrasts brilliantly with Ruth and Teddy’s American preppy style, lit in crucial moments in blood red or by two naked light bulbs suspended at front and rear like a boxing ring.

It’s a small cast and Pinter gives each a chance to shine. Best among them is Ron Cook as Max (also a veteran of The Ruling Class earlier this year) the curmudgeonly father of the house who is both proud of and appears to detest his sons. An old school working-class man, butcher by trade, who constantly reminisces about the old days while laying down the law to his household. Cook’s performance is spot on, unsympathetic and unwilling. Matching him is John Simm as Lennie giving the creepiest performance of the show. By coincidence the programme notes tell us that when The Homecoming was released, audiences could have alternatively seen Turgenev’s A Month in the Country and Simm has just finished a superb run in that self-same play at the National this summer. Also a veteran of Lloyd productions (The Hothouse), Simm is magnificent here as the outwardly friendly but deadly middle brother. With an accent that verges on a working class Kenneth Williams at his most snide, Simm is a sinister figure often appearing unexpectedly and using a chatty manner to imply considerable threat – creepy and brilliant.

Given that the world Pinter creates here is one that existed alongside the Krays, appropriately Gary Kemp has been cast, successfully against type, as the philosophical brother Teddy and he brings a softness and detachment to the role which seems right for Teddy’s separateness from his family.  Also offering a surprising turn is Keith Allen as Uncle Sam, who takes considerable pride in his legitimate job, often absenting himself from family quarrels, especially when Max and Lennie butt heads. Allen brings a restrained camp to his performance of Sam, who seems to perform most of the domestic chores, which gives the audience plenty to consider in this very male world.                                                           

The role of Ruth, then, is a tricky one as the only woman to have entered this home since the death of Max’s wife. Gemma Chan pitches her really well, initially fearful and detached implying the very different life she and Teddy have led in their middle-class American home, but as the play progresses she begins to stand up to them and ultimately it seems to dominate their thoughts and plans. The hints at Ruth’s past come across well in a knowing performance from Chan, and you’re left with the notion that whatever the family has cooked up, she’s been the one in control all along.

While I can’t say that I’ve come any closer to loving Pinter, the production values made this a fascinating and very worthwhile trip to the theatre – especially the design and direction that is bursting with meaning and the almost gleeful darkness of the performances with Simm in particular seeming to relish his character’s dangerous geniality. So wherever you end up and whoever you think you become, perhaps you can’t ever escape who you really are, eventually all of us have to come home.

The Homecoming is at the Trafalgar Studios until 13 February. Tickets start at £29.50 but Trafalgar Studios runs as £15 Monday initiative on the 2nd – so on 2nd December they will release tickets at £15 for all Mondays in December. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1


The Ruling Class – Trafalgar Studios

So I spent my Saturday night watching James McAvoy unicycling in nothing but a pair of y-fronts and some Cuban heels that Patrick Swayze would have loved. Wait… before you call the Daily Mail to report this scandal, it was all in the name of theatre. He also wore a monk’s habit, ripped off his shirt and tied himself to a cross before having a Jack the Ripper fantasy… I’m not making this any better am I? There were a few hundred other people there, it wasn’t just me! Before the gossip columnists come knocking I should probably explain that this all happened in his new play The Ruling Class at the Trafalgar Studios where McAvoy plays Jack, the mad heir to the Lordship of Gurney.

Jack has spent years in an asylum suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, believing that he is God incarnate. When his father dies in less than salubrious circumstances without changing his will, Jack inherits the title and returns to the ancestral home, much to the annoyance of his Uncle Charles who wishes him permanently committed. Wary of a public scandal, the family conspire to marry Jack off to his uncle’s young mistress, Grace, in order to produce an heir, while giving Dr Herder free reign to try and restore Jack’s sanity. But sanity comes at a price and soon Jack’s harmless delusions take a darker turn with chilling consequences for the family whose stiff-upper-lips are put to the test.

As the title suggests this is all about class and particularly how playwright Peter Barnes feels the upper classes are out of touch with real life, living in a clubbable world of appearance, old-school ties and self-protection. The programme contains an essay on our fascination with class divide; whether that’s based on breeding, money, education or some other divisive tool. Society’s need to categorise and thereby denigrate others is a persistent one and the examples Andrew Anthony calls upon include TV reality shows and recent examples of politicians condescending to people they think are inferior such as taxi drivers or the police.  Consequently, there is nothing likeable about the Gurneys here, they manipulate and conspire, have affairs and look down on their community, all of which make Jack’s early ease and freedom all the more appealing to the audience.

McAvoy is brilliant in a role that gives him a chance to display his range – and Jack is the only part that is really any more than a caricature. The first act takes us from Jack’s arrival as the God of Love in his Daz-white suit to his “cure”, and McAvoy plays him with a lightness and serene calm that is charming to watch. We also get to see an usual side to the actor – his comic timing which is so rarely used in his screen work; there’s a great moment when Uncle Charles in frustration shouts out “My God” and Jack pops his head around the door and innocently says “Yes” – hilarious. There are also quite a few utterly surreal song and dance routines which McAvoy handles with assurance.

The second half is a complete change of tone, considerably blacker than what has come before. Here Jack is trying to supress his moments of gibberish and act the part of the country squire, giving McAvoy a chance to display his abilities once again, beginning with quietly supressed frenzy and allowing it to grow and distort as the story unfolds. The great success of this performance is in making these two halves of Jack’s insanity seem part of the same man and convey a sense of outward authority that wins over his family and the community. Most of all, McAvoy looks like he’s having a great time and earned a rapturous standing ovation from the audience, which may have been for the unicycling alone!

The rest of the cast play their roles well even though the script gives them far less to do; Kathryn Drysdale’s cockney Grace Shelley was a little over the top even for this production in the first act, but was much better in the second. It was only the second night of the run so there’s still a long way to go yet. Serena Evans is great as Uncle Charles’s beleaguered wife Claire who is frustrated by her boring life and husband and is drawn to Jack’s freedom. The biggest laughs were reserved for Anthony O’Donnell however as long-serving Communist butler Tucker, who inherits £20,000 from his late master but stays to protect Jack.  There’s quite an interesting parallel drawn between these two characters, both suddenly inherit money but neither cope – Jack because he is mad and Tucker because he drinks – but they are temporarily drawn together by their new-found status. Tucker also represents the perspective of the working-classes, dismissing the idiocy of his ‘betters’ and supporting their demise. It is most obviously through Tucker that we see the consequences of Jack toxicity, and O’Donnell is fantastic throughout.

Soutra Gilmour’s production design is very fitting, largely country shades of brown and green which makes Jack’s white suit all the more eye-popping, before he adopts more muted colours in Act Two. Transporting characters to the garden is cleverly done with sunflowers growing up through the set and unfolding, before neatly retracting the same way. And the House of Lords scene, complete with cobwebbed half-skeletons representing the Peers of the Realm was also a neat satire.

Overall then, this is a great production of a very strange play. It’s a caveat worth noting if you like your drama straight and linear; the individual characters don’t have much depth and there are some very bizarre delusion sequences which may not appeal to everyone. You should also note the rather thin seating in Studio One, a shame for a purpose built modern theatre, so you’re likely to be very cosy with your neighbouring strangers. But don’t let that put you off; this is a great revival full of hilarious moments and a really great central performance from James McAvoy. So, the first of the big five performances of 2015 has set the bar high and we’ll see in the coming months whether Mark Strong, Ralph Fiennes, Damien Lewis and Benedict Cumberbatch can rise to the challenge, and if any of them is brave enough to face an audience in just their pants!

The Ruling Class is at The Trafalgar Studios until 11 April. Tickets start at £29.50, although £15 tickets for Mondays are released on 2nd of every month.

Follow this blog on Twitter: @cultualcap1


Another Country – Trafalgar Studios

The story of the Cambridge Five is one of the most absorbing tales of the twentieth-century. The scale of their treachery, betraying British secrets to Russia from the 1930s until the 1960s is almost impressive, especially given their senior placements in the Secret Intelligence Sevice (MI6), Foreign Office and even the Queen’s Household. Historians today claim that mentioning Kim Philby’s name in the secret services still elicits outrage and disgust for a man who not only betrayed his country, but also those in the intelligence community who considered him a friend. Why men who enjoyed every privilege, from Eton to Cambridge to ‘Establishment’ jobs, sided with Russia has fascinated us since the early 1950s when Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean defected, followed by Philby himself in 1963.

Julian Mitchell’s 1981 play ‘Another Country’ imagines the 1930s public schooldays of Guy Burgess (here known as Guy Bennett) and supposes the root of his decision to spy lie in the semi-petty politics of an all-boys boarding school. Written shortly after Anthony Blunt, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, was unveiled as the fifth man in the Cambridge spy-ring, the play is concerned with how the betrayal of friends on a small scale may sow the seed of something considerably more serious in later years. It opens with the suicide of a young student after being caught in a compromising position with another boy and follows the story of Bennett, an openly homosexual pupil, and his classmate Judd, a Marxist.

This is a pitiless Lord of the Flies society in which older boys manage the behaviour of their houses, dolling out brutal punishments for transgressions. Only one adult appears in the entire play, a visiting liberal uncle, a charismatic cameo from Julia Wadham, who has tea with the boys and becomes the moral centrepiece of this little society, arguing that there can be no certainty, and doubt should be the basis of all action. However, the boys running the school act with absolute moral certainty that they have the right to impose their will through the appointment of prefects and entry into the elite invitation-only 22 group. The absence of adult guidance only serves to reinforce the idea that each generation sends it boys into the ‘Establishment’ to run the country, and by using some indefinable criteria exclude those who don’t quite fit.

Bennett is well liked and, although indiscrete about his many assignations, is very much part of the ruling elite of the school. His counterpart Judd meanwhile remains a self-determined outsider until his support is needed and both boys are welcomed then rebuffed by those willing to go to any lengths to maintain the shape of their little world. Mitchell suggests it is this notion of friendly betrayal, of being jollied along and cast aside even by those he’s been close to that is the reason Bennett (aka Burgess) betrayed his country – revenge against those who used him.

Rob Callender is very good as Guy Bennett, suggesting the exuberance and self-assurance that Burgess was later known for. It’s a nuanced performance too capturing the fears and callowness of young men who think they have figured-out the world, and surprised when it comes tumbling down. Will Attenborough’s Tommy Judd is a nice contrast, calm and certain of his Communist convictions, but his loftiness is challenged by a need to participate in the School’s politicking.  Mention should also be made of Mark Quartley as Barclay, the Head of House who reaches breaking point, unable to forgive himself for the suicide that opens the play.

It’s strange that the publicity team advertise it as the play that launched Kenneth Branagh and Rupert Everett considering neither of them appears here – I can’t imagine the Barbican promoting their forthcoming Hamlet as previously starring David Tennant, Rory Kinnear and Jude Law! It’s hardly fair to the pretty good set of young actors in this version who may have lengthy careers ahead of them. Whether this play sheds light on the motivation of a key member of the Cambridge Five is interesting to debate, but it’s certainly unabashed in its exploration of public school cruelty in the 1930s. As a microcosm of the Establishment many of its pupils became part of, is it possible to understand why a few chose espionage and betrayal instead?

Another Country runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 21June. Ticket prices start from £19.50, although Last Minute had them from £16 when I booked.


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