By Hugh Whitemore
Directed by Christopher Morahan
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Monday 16th February 2009
We saw this back in 1983 (Theatre Royal, Brighton) when Judi Dench and Michael Williams played the married couple at the heart of this story. I don’t recall much of the performances (I’m sure they were excellent) but in any case I’m sure I’d still have enjoyed this production just as much.
Jenny Seagrove and Simon Shepherd play Barbara and Bob Jackson, neighbours to Peter and Helen Kroger, good friends and Russian spies, both at the same time. The play takes us from the good times, through the initial request for help from the British Secret Service and the gradual realisation of the true nature of their ‘good friends’, to the tragic ending with the death of Barbara. The strain of having to keep their secret, not just from their friends but also from their daughter, Julie, proved too much for a woman of nervous disposition.
The set was much as I remember. It’s the interior of the ground floor of a semi-detached house in a London suburb, Ruislip in this case, showing us the sitting room, entrance hall and stairs, and kitchen. All very 1950s. The costumes all matched the time period perfectly, with Barbara and Bob being conservative, even dowdy, and Helen being flamboyant and glamorous. The paintings on the sitting room wall which are meant to be by Barbara are of decent quality for an amateur (I’ve seen a lot worse in The Deep Blue Sea), and seeing the old Bakelite telephone reminded me of the days when a phone call was an event, and people formed communities with those they lived close to, rather than logging on to the global village. How things change.
It’s an interesting play which never drags, for all the relative lack of action and amount of information to get across. Due to Roy Marsden’s indisposition, the part of the Secret Service chap, Stewart, was played by David Morley Hale, who made good use of his character’s notebook to remind himself of the lines. His delivery was a bit flat as result – he’ll be better once he’s off the book – but it’s a fairly dry part anyway, so I don’t think we lost too much from the cast change, and I suspect most of the audience were just grateful he was there.
I liked the way the casual snobbery of the time was thrown in now and again. Describing one neighbouring couple as British, and then qualifying it by commenting that the wife came from Wales, was typically spot-on. The solo speeches to the audience were also good, as they filled in a lot of the information that the structure just wouldn’t accommodate otherwise. In all, a very good evening out.
© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me