Julian Mitchell’s 1981 play Another Country centres on the horrors and politics of public school in 1930s Britain; Klaxon Productions’ performance is memorable, understated, and at moments quite beautiful.
Of course, much of this is down to the foundation gifted by Mitchell’s phenomenal script, which above all crafts two brilliant central characters, and a believably horrible environment for them to exist in. Mitchell understood the absurdity of schoolyard politics, and how the ghastly public school ethos of status, belonging, and morality creates a breeding ground of anger and discontent. This is represented in Judd (Dominick Weatherby) and Bennett (Luke Wintour), whose school is ‘a complex network of irreconcilable differences’. They are looking to see if it’s worth even attempting to fit in. We recently celebrated the 50 year anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, decriminalising homosexuality in England and Wales. Plays like these, at this time, are so important as a reminder of how far we have come, but also of the discrimination still rife in many societies.
Because of this contrast – the pointless lingo and moral hierarchies in public school, versus the desperate and real emotion of its characters – Mitchell’s script requires stellar acting to ensure the substance is not lost under the chatter. Thankfully, John Livesey’s cast are more than capable of this. Weatherby plays Judd with the right amount of obnoxiousness and bombast, reminiscent of the type of unwavering teenage communist most know at school. Yet the performance is more striking when stripped back and quietly reckoning with his own, or his friend’s, conflict. Wintour’s character Bennett is made the focus of the show, and is performed brilliantly, with the acerbic and ostensibly light character giving way at times to a deeply sad, emotional, and (crucially) understated figure when stripped back. The supporting cast, in particular Marcus Knight-Adams’ antagonistic prefect, give solid performances and help keep the piece moving and tied together, but the focus is very much on the main two.
The design and direction seems to have taken a less-is-more view; a simple yet creatively used set from Sophie Greenfield and a generally understated approach from Livesey allows the script and actors to speak for themselves. There are some inspired moments – a crowd bustling through a hall, or a particularly beautiful end to the first act that I won’t spoil, but will say is likely the moment audiences will return to most. There is also a bit of clutter, like a musical bookend that falls a bit limp, or some prolonged furniture choreography during scene changes. These break up the play a bit too much, but not enough to distract from the fact that Livesey and company have done justice to a script whose quality it would be easy to coast on. There is an attention to detail and subtlety here that is refreshing. Another Country is worth seeing for Mitchell’s seminal script alone, and it is worth staying for the quiet emotion the production team and performers bring.