The Theatreguide.London Review
Trafalgar Studios Spring 2014
First, a bit of background for non-Brits and the tragically young: in the 1950s and 1960s Britain was rocked by the discovery of a cell of Soviet spies high in the government. Even more disturbing than the security breach was the fact that these weren't shifty foreigners but Englishmen who had gone to the best schools and Cambridge, belonged to the best clubs and were Our Kind Of People.
Julian Mitchell's 1982 drama is an attempt to guess through fiction how the real-life traitors might have started.
Another Country is set in a posh boys' school in the 1930s, and for much of its length it is a slightly cynical but not unsympathetic look at the way school becomes the lads' whole world.
Alongside the grumbling about parents and Latin lessons, the schoolboy crushes and passing experiments in self-government and homosexuality, issues like following or breaking tradition, being chosen for school honours or the secret society, and winning intramural competitions are immensely serious matters.
Mitchell gradually draws our attention to two of the teenagers who refuse to play the game. Judd is a budding Communist, studying Marx by torchlight after dark, venerating Stalin and reminding his classmates at every opportunity that they'll be among the first up against the wall come the revolution.
Bennett is the class clown, using his quick wit to escape punishments and also to cope with the growing realisation that, unlike the mutual fumbling almost universal among his classmates, he actually is homosexual.
Which of them is going to become the traitor, the dedicated ideologue or the one fated to be an outsider?
In this production first seen at Bath and Chichester, Will Attenborough conveys Judd's commitment and humourlessness while letting us see that both are as endemic to adolescence as to Marxism.
Rob Callender captures the attractive comic energy of Bennett but is a little slow in doling out indications of a more serious and sadder core to the boy. Julian Wadham shines effortlessly in an extended cameo as a visiting celebrity who is kind and respectful to the boys and just a bit predatory.
Director Jeremy Herrin evidently impressed upon his cast that boys of this age, class and period would have worked to appear more mature than they were, with the unintended result that most of the young actors look and carry themselves as if they were twice the age of the characters they're playing.