Another Country offers a hypothesised origin story of the infamous Cambridge Five – a real life quintet of British government officials who sold secrets to the Soviet Union during World War II and into the early 50s. The most famous member of the spy ring is the much written about Guy Burgess; an open homosexual who worked in the British Foreign Office and regularly passed classified documents onto the KGB.
Julian Mitchell’s award winning play takes us through the renowned corridors of adolescent power, inhabited by the coming of age politicians of tomorrow, in his tight, pacey and riveting drama – presenting the catalysing seeds for Burgess’ ongoing betrayals of Queen and country. The action revolves around Guy Bennett (an obvious nod to Burgess), a charming and promiscuous anti-authoritarian who has bedded half the boys in his school, and his peer Tommy Judd, a devoted Marxist with nothing but contempt for the Western class structure.
Mitchell fills his drama with provocative titbits and hints towards the boys’ treason in later life and, as a possible historic representation of events, the play provides fascinating insight – Bennett feels betrayed by his classmates because of his sexual inclination and Judd for their political blindness. Furthermore, the tertiary characters are all given meaty subtext and grounding for their fictional political careers later in life. A scene where the heads of house discuss the PR backlash from a student’s suicide and barely touch upon the emotional damage has a stink of the David Kelly affair to it that is dramatically rewarding and utter depressing in equal measure.
This current revival of Another Country couldn’t be better timed either. Despite the clear connections to the ongoing Edward Snowden fiasco, Mitchell peppers his students’ optimism for the future and the audience’s retrospective omniscience with a beautiful and sad irony. At one point Judd passionately tells Bennett that Russia is a “utopia” where everyone, including homosexuals, is treated as an equal and the events of the untold, unseen future provides compelling gravitas to proceedings.
Although the play is heavily weighted with social commentary, it is balanced out with an affecting personal drama. Knowledge for the Cambridge Five aside, Another Country is still a fascinating character study and gripping story. The entire cast of talented young actors bring to life a world which, too many of us, is far removed, alien and beyond comprehension and manage to bring affability to entitled nobility.
Another Country is showing at Trafalgar Studios, London. Tickets are available here.