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A CurtainUp London Review
I was at school in Cambridge with a girl whose brother Guy, she told us with some embarrassment, had the spy Guy Burgess as his godfather. His other godfather was Master of the Queen's Pictures, Sir Antony Blunt, whose role in recruiting for the KGB at Cambridge in the 1930s was exposed much later than the others who defected, Burgess, Maclean and Philby. Remember that in 1944 the prospect of socialism seemed much more attractive that Hitler's fascism.
While watching a play about Burgess many years later, it was explained that Burgess was godfather to over 40 children. As a gregarious bachelor he was many of his Cambridge associates' godparent of choice. And in Julian Mitchell's play, we see the charming and witty side of Burgess, unashamedly gay years before gay liberation and gay pride.
By setting his play in an English public school, Mitchell allows us to see the political idealism of youth. Judd, (played by one of the up and coming generation of Attenboroughs, Will Attenborough) is convinced that socialism is the right way. Much of what he says in the play is highly quotable, from, "Almost everyone has forgotten how to be decent and truthful - that's why we need a revolution", to the ironic in the light of today when he says to homosexual Guy, "There's complete sexual freedom in Russia."
Another Country is a well constructed play where a small school community has to address a tragedy which exposes the lack of care for the boys and the shame of homosexuality. Jeremy Herrin gets fine performances from his cast, especially Rob Callender as Guy Bennett. Sociable and witty, it must have been torturefor Burgess to be exiled in Russia without his amusing coterie of friends. When the visiting writer Vaughn Cunningham (Julian Wadham) arrives to talk to boys and quotes Swinburne, the ideas are exciting and Wadham's angled stance almost has him carried away as he explains his theories to the younger generation.
It will be interesting to watch these young actors as they progress in the profession — Will Attenborough's serious and focussed Judd based on a character who died in the Spanish Civil War fighting against the Fascists. . . Rob Callender's glittering Bennett. . . Bill Milner's anxious fag Wharton.
The horse trading as they try to decide who will be head of house, who will be prefects and who will be in the inner enclave of the "22", those allowed to wear patterned waistcoats, is an introduction to political life within the accepted structure of this school where we meet only boys and the visiting author, never teachers.
Jeremy Herrin's production from Chichester is a fine illustration of youth rebellion, asking the question why this generation of 1930s scholars should have been prepared to spy for Russia and to betray their country. Mitchell's case is that their homosexuality distanced them from the mainstream, excluded them and made them alienated. Julian Mitchell's play endures and involves.
For my review in 2000 go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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