Cambridge spies play Another Country impresses critics

By Kev Geoghegan
Arts and entertainment reporter, BBC News

image copyrightJOHAN PERSSON
image captionRob Callender plays Guy Bennett, a role played by Rupert Everett in the original 1981 production

A West End revival of Julian Mitchell's play Another Country has won over critics 33 years after it made stars of Rupert Everett and Sir Kenneth Branagh.

The play, based loosely on the public school days of the so-called Cambridge spies, was "funny, painful and very relevant", the Telegraph said.

The Independent's critic Michael Coveney praised Mitchell's "elegant, incisive writing".

Newcomers Rob Callender and Will Attenborough play the lead roles.

Set in the 1930s, the play tackles the hypocrisy and snobbery of the English public school system. It centres on two outcasts, the openly gay Guy Bennett and the Marxist Tommy Judd.

The Independent's Michael Coveney wrote in his four-star review: "As a schooldays play about hierarchies, sex, suicide and loneliness, the piece hasn't dated, while Mitchell's elegant, incisive writing still pleases and provokes in equal measure."

image copyrightRex Features
image captionRupert Everett (left) and Colin Firth starred in the 1984 film adaptation of the play

Guy Bennett is based on Guy Burgess, who - along with Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, and Kim Philby - was among the four confirmed members of the Cambridge Five, a spy ring that passed Western secrets to the Soviets before and during the Cold War.

Judd is based on poet John Cornford, who died while fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

"They were exiles from the establishment which dragooned them," wrote Libby Purves in her five-star review for the London Theatre Guide. "So in Mitchell's interpretation (a highly convincing one) it was wholly logical for them to end up as spies."

The roles of Bennett and Judd were played by Everett and Sir Kenneth respectively in the original 1981 production at the Greenwich Theatre.

It transferred to the West End in 1982 with Daniel Day Lewis as Bennett and, in 1983, the role was played by Colin Firth.

image copyrightJohan Persson
image captionWill Attenborough (front) is the grandson of actor and director Lord Richard Attenborough

"Rupert Everett is talked about a lot," said Rob Callender, who is playing Bennett, his first theatre role after graduating from Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

"It's not particularly helpful but people always say that he made the role Rupert Everett and I was much more interested in making the part Guy Burgess and trying to get into who he was."

The latest production has transferred to the Trafalgar Studios from the Chichester Festival Theatre, where it opened last year.

Both new actors have been praised, with the Telegraph's Charles Spencer writing: "Rob Callender gives a mesmerising performance in this key role, a beautiful, insouciantly witty golden boy on the point of turning rotten.

"He's amusing, irresponsible, and - you feel - a man who will have no compunction about betraying those who have betrayed him."

However in the Daily Mail, Patrick Marmion suggested: "Today... the question of Burgess's motivation is somewhat obscure.

"Demands for gay equality have been largely met, and so we are left only with a nostalgic fantasy of a slightly fruitier version of Tom Brown's Schooldays."

While the Callender name is - as yet - relatively unknown, the Attenborough name is not. The young actor is the son of theatre director Michael Attenborough and grandson of Lord Richard Attenborough.

"I don't think it's helped nor hindered, its there," he said. "I'd be naive to pretend I didn't have a famous surname. Ultimately everybody's got to do the work on their own.

"If I did a crap audition nobody would cast me on the basis of a surname and I'm very aware of that."

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