Another Country (West End)
Despite a slow start Jeremy Herrin's revival reveals the revolutionary core of Julian Mitchell's 1981 play
At first glance Julian Mitchell's 1981 play is about as edgy as a cushion. It's a public school-set drama with the flavour of Rattigan and a political concern seemingly limited to the 1930s period it depicts.
But scratch the surface and it threatens to become devastatingly revolutionary. For the play, which centres on two young men at odds with the brutal hierarchy of their public school, says something deeply profound about the British identity crisis that continues to afflict our society in 2014.
On one side of this crisis are the British Empire enforcers-in-waiting, aka prefects, who attempt to save the school's face when a pupil hangs himself after being outed as gay. On the other sit best friends Guy Judd, modelled on 'Cambridge spy' Guy Burgess, and Tommy Bennett, united by their status as outsiders due to their respective communist and homosexual leanings.
Jeremy Herrin's production, transplanted from Chichester to Trafalgar Studios, plays a straight bat and boasts stirling performances from Will Attenborough and Rob Callender as the rebellious, sharp-witted duo ("have you ever tried lifting your late father's corpse off your living mother?" Callender's Bennett teases a gullible fellow pupil).
But despite some fine young talents the play only really kicks into gear with the second act appearance of Julian Wadham as Vaughan Cunningham, a middle-aged former conscientious objector who bears the scars of the social battles the boys are only just beginning to fight.
Watching Another Country 30 years after it put Rupert Everett, Colin Firth et al on the road to stardom, it may feel dated in its obsession with the minutiae of public school politics. But among the plentiful dramatic ironies - Judd's hero-worship of Stalin, Bennett's suggestion he could one day marry his friend - perhaps the most pertinent is the nagging feeling that scenes such as these are still being played out on the playing fields of Eton today.