Another Country could do for Rob Callender and Will Atteborough what it did for Rupert Everett and Colin Firth after they appeared in the first production back in 1981. These two young actors are playing Bennett and Judd respectively and, although I have only seen this latest version at Trafalgar Studios, so can’t compare them to their predecessors, I can comment that they are excellent in their roles.
The play, written by Julian Mitchell following Anthony Blunt’s exposure as a Soviety spy, is set in a public school in the thirties and centres around friends, Bennett and Judd. The former is a blatant homosexual, whilst the latter a fervent Marxist, making them both outsiders, a difficult path to follow within the confines of an establishment that can’t tolerate anything other than what it considers the norm. Or at least anyone brave enough not to keep their nonconformity hidden.
Loosely based on the spy, Guy Burgess (Bennett in the play), Another Country hints that maybe the reason he and some of his contemporaries eventually betrayed their country was down to pure revenge at the hypocrisy and cruelty they endured during their schooldays. Bennett even utters the line, “you can’t beat a good public school for learning to hide your true feelings”.
The play opens with the discovery of the suicide of Martineau, a young pupil who has hanged himself after being discovered by a teacher having sex with
another boy. The effect of this shocking act manifests itself in different ways with different boys, as we discover as the play unfolds.
The language is dated and interspersed with public school jargon but this only adds to the period feel. And whilst it is at times wordy and slow paced, the director Jeremy Herrin perfectly captures the stifling atmosphere of an English public school with all its inflexibility and hierarchies.
The cast is exemplary with Rob Callender brilliant as the nonchalant, witty loose-canon, Bennett. Full of cunning and with the fluidity of a dancer, this talented young actor also captures the pain of realizing that his homosexuality will always make him an outsider. Will Attenborough’s Judd, the earnest boy who reads Das Kapital by torch light under the bed clothes, is equally believable and there is great support from the rest of the cast, in particular Julian Wadham as the gay Vaughan Cunningham.
Another Country is a play with humour and pain. Who said schooldays are the happiest days of your life?