Robert Tanitch reviews Another Country at Trafalgar Studios, London SW1
Julian Mitchell’s play, which premiered in 1981 and launched the careers of Rupert Everett and Kenneth Branagh, was inspired by the spy scandals of Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Harold Philby and Anthony Blunt. It shows how the great British public schools in the 1930s became the breeding ground for the homosexual spies of the future.
The jockeying for power, the ditching of friends, the corruption of minds (and bodies) is an excellent preparation for the Establishment in later life. To survive in this particular environment you must must lie, cheat and blackmail. The petty politics of school life mirror the more serious scandals and compromises of adult life.
“You can’t beat a good public school for learning to conceal your true feelings,” says the flamboyant, intelligent, gay Guy Bennett (Rob Callender), who advertises his predilections. “What better cover for a secret agent than apparent total indiscretion?”
Guy’s best friend is Tom (Will Attenborough), a budding Marxist. There was nothing odd about being a communist in the 1930s; anybody with a social conscience might have joined the communist party. The articulate Tommy is based on John Cornfield, the poet killed in the Spanish Civil War.
Julian Wadham has one of the best scenes; certainly the wittiest and most literate. He plays a visiting writer, a famous conscientious objector, searching for the potential spies of the future.
Some of the actors look a bit old to be still at school; but Jeremy Herrin’s production is well acted and, after a slow start, Julian Mitchell’s play gets better and better the longer it goes on.