PACK OF LIES
by Hugh Whitemore.
The Menier Chocolate Factory, 53 Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU to 17 November 2018.
Tues-Sat 8pm. Mat Sat & Sun 3.30pm. No performance 7 October.
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7378 1713.
Review: William Russell 3 October
A well made play of the past well performed
Sometimes plays just die,.The qualities that made them a hit are there for all to see but somehow they are so of their time that it breathing life into them becomes impossible. Hugh Whitemore, who died earlier this year was an extremely skilled dramatist with plays, television and cinema scripts to his credit. This 1983 play was a West End hitmoved to Broadway and was later filmed. In London it starred Judi Dench and Michael Williams playing the Ruislip couple persuaded by the security services in the early 1960w to allow them to put their neighbours -suspected of being Russian spies – under surveillance from their home.
It was based on the Portland spy ring led by Gordon Lonsdale. Peter and Helen Kroger, allegedly Canadians, but actually Morris and Lorna Cohen, Russian agents, befriended their neighbours Bob and Barbara Jackson. Helen, extrovert, brash and chatty, was an inspiration to the shy and suburban to the core Barbara, a window on a world beyond the lace curtains of Ruislip, an escape by proxy from the narrow world she lived in. It could hardly be more topical.
We see is the impact on the Jacksons of allowing the spooks to occupy their front room. Bob, someone who does his duty, a stolid, unimaginative citizen, goes along with the request as does their teenage daughter. Barbara is reluctant, feels she is betraying her friend, and, when the Krogers are unmasked and she realises the friendship was all a sham, she is shattered, her trust in people destroyed.
Forty years ago the play worked, but now it comes over at best as a museum piece. Barbara, movingly played by Finty Williams, would today be far more aware of the world beyond those lace curtains. She is now a figure with whom it is hard to empathise. Bob, well meaning, solid, more perceptive than he seems, played perfectly by Chris Larkin, survives the passage of time.
He gets the final words of the play to deliver when he reveals what happened after the Krogers were arrested and for those moments the piece comes thrillingly alive.
The decision to stretch the set across the entire width of the Menier auditorium is arguably unwise – the cinemascope effect destroys the audience’s focus and the complexities of the set, which stretches from the family car outside the bay windows of the lounge to the back door into the kitchen, creates some really tricky obstacles for the cast to negotiate.
As a well made play it is worth catching, but the superb performances of Finty Williams and Chris Larkin are the reasons for going. It is a measure of how time has affected the play that Jasper Britton, an actor of great resource, cannot breathw life into the head spy catcher who comes to call from time to time.
Bob Jackson: Chris Larkin.
Barbara Jackson: Finty Williams.
Julie Jackson: Nancy Nyman.
Helen Kroger: Tracy-Ann Oberman.
Peter Koger: Alasdair Harvey.
Stewart: Jasper Britton.
Thelma: Natalie Walter.
Sally: Sia Dauda.
Directr: Hannah Chissick.
Set & Costume Designer: Paul Farnsworth.
Lighting Designer: Paul Anderson.
Sound Designer: Jonathan Everett.
Original Music: Simon Slater.
Dialect Coach: Kara Tsiaperas.
Hair & Wig Designer: Richard Mawbey.
Production Photo: Nobby Clark