Another Country is a play that the Oxford theatre scene is well acquainted with – successful revivals of Julian Mitchell’s 1981 work on political and sexual rebellion in the repressive environment of a 1930s public school have appeared in 2000 and 2013 at the Oxford Playhouse. Yet its re-emergence at the Michael Pilch Studio in 4th Week, this time under the helm of John Livesey and Klaxon Productions, looks set to bring a newfound pertinence to the ideas of revolt that the play explores, nicely complementing a Pilch term card which seems to be thematically centred upon stories of rebellion and upheaval.
The plot is loosely based upon the early life of the infamous spy Guy Burgess (perhaps better known for his 1951 defection to the Soviet Union), but from the excerpt I was shown on Monday night, where this production really succeeds is in its portrayal of the ensemble, rather than the individual. The play deals with a group of schoolboys left reeling by the suicide of their openly homosexual classmate, Martineau. There were some fine two-handers in the scenes I was shown – particularly between Luke Wintour’s Bennett, a boy struggling with his own sexuality in an oppressive and unsympathetic environment, and Dom Weatherby’s Judd, a furious and passionate Marxist. Youthful non-conformity crackles between the two schoolboy revolutionaries in the sharp dialogue. The clash of personalities evident in Wintour’s laconic and mercurial Bennett and the rather more direct, righteous anger of Weatherby’s Judd was skilfully heightened, and there is a real chemistry between the two. Livesey has injected a definite sense of pace to their musings on anarchy – both sexual and political – and it never feels like it is lagging. Livesey does justice to a script which is abound with clever ideas and wit.
While the play might focus upon the various philosophies of these two thoughtfully-portrayed outsiders, the real success of this production is in the strong ensemble cast. There are nuanced performances all round among the other schoolboys; Marcus Knight-Adams contributes a particularly good venom as the dictatorial Fowler, Chris Dodsworth skilfully brings a sense of troubled gravitas as Barclay and Harry Clements is on comic form as the younger boy Wharton (‘Wharton, you are reading. Is that wise?’). Pelin Morgan, Laura Henderson-Child, Lee Simmonds and Harry Berry round off the cast and the chemistry between the group is palpable; this is a talented group of actors and the ensemble scenes were meticulously thought-out tableaux of tension and repression. The oppressive force of societal convention is manifested through the staging; characters find themselves uncomfortably close to each other as what is unsaid is perhaps most significant.
This is clearly a production with real talent all across the board – some very thoughtful directorial choices are complemented by a really strong group of actors. With Random (MT17), Klaxon Productions established themselves as a mouthpiece for theatre that examines important and engaging social issues, and that same desire to shine a light on rebellion, both social and sexual, is evident here. Don’t miss out!