by Julian Mitchell.
Minerva Theatre Oaklands Park To 19 October 2013.
Mon, Tue, Thu-Sat 7.45pm Wed 8pm Mat Wed 3pm; Sat 2.45pm.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 September.
Here’s Another Country with its detailed analysis of class, sex and treachery.
Great tunes attract words. Ambassador Cecil Spring-Rice wrote ‘I Vow to Thee My Country’ for the main melody of Gustav Holst’s ‘Jupiter’, from The Planets. Its outer verses frame the action in this revival of Julian Mitchell’s 1981 play, sung by a chorus of public-school boys as they advance like chess-pieces over the Minerva stage.
The opening verse is a patriotic pledge; the final one a reference to the Christian heaven. But young Marxist Judd, at public school in the 1930s, rejects the idea of heaven on earth for the “earth on earth” ideal he believes Stalin is toiling night and day to build.
For other “men”, what matters is advancement through school as preparation for advancement in life. Mitchell unobtrusively details the institutional rituals which grip the generations as tightly as a family vault, while his first act positions his chess-men, before the second advances them to checkmate.
And, amid most boys’ ‘phase’ any real homosexual becomes aware of exclusion. Falling in love with another lad awakens flamboyant Guy Bennett to his nature.
If that isolates him it needn’t stop advancement. But he’s constitutionally indiscrete and when the dynamics of school life exclude him from the inner circle of the ‘22’, with its network offering prospects of first-class futures, he turns to Judd’s Marxism, giving him another country from which to lash back at his own.
Premiered just after the furore surrounding the public unmasking of another Cambridge spy, the play’s Guy Bennett will become, as Guy Burgess actually was, a Soviet spy in the Establishment.
The play deploys well-observed school rituals skilfully. Revived today, aided by hints in costume, it reveals the presence of a privileged Bullingdon Club assurance.Even the trembling first year starts showing signs of assurance when he stands-up for ‘fag’s perks’ (left-over food) and his family’s tradition. But, if belief in the rituals disappears, only a stale weariness remains.
Noted for the quality of young people’s performance in his productions, Jeremy Herrin hasn’t fully avoided stiffness of manner in his cast. But the detail of public school behaviour is clear, up to the devastating final scene.
Judd: Will Attenborough.
Bennett: Rob Callender.
Devenish: Mark Donald.
Menzies: James Parris.
Fowler: Oliver Johnstone.
Delahay: Cai Brigden.
Barclay: Orlando James.
Sanderson: Dario Coates.
Wharton: Bill Milner.
Vaughan Cunningham: Julian Wadham.
Director: Jeremy Herrin.
Designer: Peter McKintosh.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Voice/Dialect coach: Martin McKellan.
Choral coach: Simon Over.
Assistant director: Hannah Banister.
Associate designer: Simon Wells.
Associate lighting: David Howe.