Robert Tanitch reviews Pack of Lies at Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1
Playwright and screenwriter Hugh Whitemore, who died in July aged 82, wrote plays about well-known figures, such as Stevie Smith, Alan Turing, Harold Macmillan, Richard Nixon and Winston Churchill.
The revival of Pack of Lies, one of his big successes, is a nice tribute to him. Originally written for television in 1973 he adapted it for the stage in 1983. The production starred Judi Dench and her husband, Michael Williams. It still felt like a television play.
35 years later it gets its first revival and it seems better than it did; and with the recent spy events in Salisbury it even feels timely.
Hannah Chissick’s production is given an added interest because Flinty Williams, Judi Dench’s daughter, is now playing the leading character and playing her extremely well.
The play, which is said to be “more or less true”, is based on the 1961 Portland Spy Ring case and concerns the intolerable strain put on Mr and Mrs Jackson, a dull suburban middle-aged couple, and their teenage daughter.
Their house was used as a base to spy on Peter and Helen Kroger, their best friends, who lived across the road. Mrs Jackson, in particular, was unable to cope with the lies she had to tell and the deceit she had to practise.
You will remember that E.M. Forster famously said that if he had to choose between betraying his country and betraying his friend, he hoped he would have the guts to betray his country.
The man from Scotland Yard (Jasper Britton) tried to say something comforting to the effect that just because Mrs Kroger was a spy that did not make her friendship for Mrs Jackson any the less sincere. Mrs Jackson was not convinced and she never did recover from the shock.
Flinty Williams and Chris Larkin as the Jacksons give affecting performances; their particular achievement is to manage to make suburban dullness interesting.