With its colourful history and many layers, Another Country can be hard to follow at times but this is incredibly enjoyable, vibrant theatre in which a vivid world is brought to life.
The play is loosely based on the life of a real spy, in the form of character Guy Bennett. If you want to read up on the background, here’s a good place to start. We didn’t, but still enjoyed the production immensely. Feeling a bit lost was enjoyable. We were totally swept up in the world of a 1930s private boarding school along the lines of Eton. The set is suitably classic, with wood panels and all the fixtures and fittings of an upper class school. There’s a rigid social order of houses, clubs, prefects and a simmering under-current of gay sex between the boys that comes to a head when one of them is discovered by a teacher, and thus hangs himself.
The first act is a bit slow to get going, although Rob Callender’s Guy Bennett is a delight from the first moment he speaks. He has an ease of presence, and a likeable, magnetic sexuality that becomes more and more endearing as the play progresses – whichever way you swing. His eventual opening up, and in part, his coming to terms with the reality of his sexuality, is heartfelt and moving. His sense of fear of a life as an outsider is palpable, and will be relevant to anyone who’s gone through the process of ‘coming out,’ regardless of when.
In 2014, plays with gay characters that talk about gay sex are not especially shocking. When the play premiered in 1981, the world was very different. Perhaps Another Country has lost its potential for shock value, but its core story of young men coming to terms with their emotions, sexuality and place in the world is timeless.
Another theme that resonates in Another Country is how the school in which it’s set is a microcosm of society, with lots of rules, unfairness and seemingly pointless customs. There are parallels with our own 21st century world: when to email or call someone, how to dress for work or an interview. We play out roles, just as these boys were doing in their 1930s boarding school.
One character that tries not to play by the rules is Tommy Judd, played by Will Attenborough. As charming as Callender, Attenborough portrays the Marxist Judd as a young man with compassion and drive at odds with the world he’s surrounded by, yet willing to bend his own ‘rules’ for his friends.
In essence, Another Country is about friendship, growing up and the factors that shape us. This is an exciting new production of a celebrated play, and each cast member brings it bang up to date with their own unique energy. Youth may be wasted on the young, but here’s another chance to soak it up for a few hours and that chance is always welcome.
By Danny Hilton