Rob Callender and Will Attenborough
Will Attenborough and Bill Milner
Julian Wadham, James Parris and Will Attenborough
Sentence me to six strokes of the cane and a buggering from the house captain, but I don’t quite get the praise for Jeremy Herrin’s revival of Julian Mitchell’s 1981 smash, which transfers to the West End after an acclaimed Chichester run.
‘Another Country’ has all sorts of layers: it’s an allegory for interwar Britain, it’s a fictionalised account of the early years of spy Guy Burgess, it’s a critique of the English public school system, it’s a vehicle for young male British actors (it famously launched the careers of Rupert Everett, Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Day-Lewis and Colin Firth) and it’s often very funny.
These are all good things, but there are moments where ‘Another Country’ creaks. Without wishing to get all class warrior about it, some of the scenes of public school politicking are so hysterically byzantine that I found it hard to take them remotely seriously, much as I’m sure such things still go on at Eton et al. And with Burgess’s infamy having faded somewhat, that facet of the play has lost some of its power.
But aggressively modernising ‘Another Country’ seems beside the point, and it remains a sturdily written springboard for promising young talent. Rob Callender is excellent as gay, iconoclastic Guy, his untameable wit and pathological distrust of dogma fizzing away, lighting a fuse that will blow up in the face of the British establishment. And Will Attenborough is good as his fellow outsider Judd, a painfully intelligent young Marxist caught between his ideological passions and his acute awareness of what needs to be done to ‘get on’ in British society.
It’s the scenes where the pair are absent that I found a bit of slog, as ‘Another Country’ becomes bogged in the public school arcana of house committees and fagging etiquette. To me it feels eclipsed by Alan Bennett’s more proletarian ‘The History Boys’ or the outsider’s view of Laura Wade’s devastating ‘Posh’.
Still, with Downing Street firmly in the clutches of an old Etonian cabal, it would be daft to say that Mitchell’s play had had its day. And even if it had, at its core it remains a smart, sensitive piece of writing, here finely acted by young leads Callender and Attenborough, both of them names to watch.