Another Country (play)

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Another Country
Another Country.jpg
Poster for the 1983 production starring Colin Firth
Written by Julian Mitchell
Characters Guy Bennett
Tommy Judd
Barclay
Delahay
Donald Devenish
Fowler
James Harcourt
Date premiered 5 November 1981
Place premiered Greenwich Theatre
London, England
Original language English
Genre Drama
Setting an English public school in the early 1930s

Another Country is a play written by the English playwright Julian Mitchell. It premiered on 5 November 1981 at the Greenwich Theatre, London, and transferred to the West End in March 1982. The play has developed a strong connection with Oxford Playhouse, which revived the play in 2000 in a new production directed by Stephen Henry (transferred to the Arts Theatre, Westminster, from September 2000 until January 2001). It was revived again at Oxford Playhouse in February 2013 by OUDS-supported Oxford University student company Screw the Looking Glass. In September 2013 a successful collaboration between Theatre Royal Bath and Chichester Festival Theatre was directed by Jeremy Herrin, transferring to Trafalgar Studios in 2014.

The play won the Society of West End Theatre Awards Play of the Year title for 1982.

Plot synopsis[edit]

Another Country is loosely based on the life of the spy Guy Burgess, renamed "Guy Bennett" in the play, and examines the effect his homosexuality and exposure to Marxism has on his life, and the hypocrisy and snobbery of the English public school he attends.

The setting is a 1930s public school - modelled on Eton and Winchester (the latter being where Mitchell himself went to school) - where pupils Guy Bennett and Tommy Judd become friends because they are both outsiders in their own ways. Bennett is openly homosexual, while Judd is a Marxist.

The play opens with the discovery that a pupil named Martineau has hanged himself after being caught by a teacher having sex with another boy. ACT 1 follows the reaction of some of the students to his death as the senior boys try to keep the scandal away from both the parents and the outside world. Barclay, the Head of Gascoigne's House, moves towards nervous breakdown, blaming himself for the boy's despair. Bennett, the only openly gay member of the school, pretends nonchalance but is deeply troubled by the suicide. His best friend Judd, the school's only Marxist, believes the death is a symptom of the school's oppressive regime. When the parents of the aristocratic Devenish threaten to remove him from the school in light of the scandal, Fowler (a prefect) attempts to crack down on the perceived perversion in his House, and to persecute Bennett in particular. The other students initially defend Bennett's provocative and incendiary behaviour (partly due to Bennett's ability to blackmail them with knowledge of their own homosexual trysts). Meanwhile, although Judd is reluctant to become a member of Twenty-Two himself (since he feels that this would endorse the school's system of oppression), he agrees – after much pressure from his peers Menzies and Bennett – in the hope of preventing the hated Fowler from becoming Head of House in the wake of the Martineau scandal. However, Judd's moral sacrifice is for nothing. In ACT 2 Fowler intercepts a letter from Bennett to his lover Harcourt, and Bennett's supporters fade away. Bennett is beaten, Judd is humiliated, and it is Devenish who is ultimately invited to join the school's exclusive ‘Twenty-Two’ society (which references Eton's 'Pop') in the place of Bennett, shattering Bennett's childhood dream.

In the play's closing scene, Bennett and Judd recognise that the school's illusory hold upon them has been broken and that the British class system relies strongly on outward appearances. They begin to contemplate life anew, inspired by the example of Devenish's rebellious uncle, Vaughan Cunningham (who, in a subplot, visits the school). Bennett picks up Judd's copy of Das Kapital, and muses, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all this was true?’ [1]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mitchell 1982, passim.

Productions[edit]

Theatre programme from the 1982 production starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

The original 1981 Greenwich Theatre production featured Rupert Everett as Guy. Upon transferring to the Queen's Theatre in the West End in March 1982, the production initially also featured Kenneth Branagh as Tommy Judd. Daniel Day-Lewis took over the role of Guy in late 1982, when John Dougall took over Tommy, and was succeeded in the role by James Newall in early 1983, by which time Colin Firth was appearing as Guy, and Julien Ball as Menzies and Miles Richardson as Fowler.

Film adaptation[edit]

In 1984, the play was adapted into a movie directed by Marek Kanievska and starring Rupert Everett as Guy Bennett and Colin Firth as Tommy Judd. Also starring are Michael Jenn (Barclay), Robert Addie (Delahay), Rupert Wainwright (Donald Devenish), Tristan Oliver (Fowler), Cary Elwes (James Harcourt), Piers Flint-Shipman (Menzies) and Anna Massey (Imogen Bennett). Also present in three scenes as an extra without any dialogue is Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, the younger brother of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Radio adaptation[edit]

The play was adapted for radio and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra on 26 May 2013 as part of BBC Radio 4 Extra's Cambridge Spies season, starring Tom Hiddleston as "Tommy Judd".

Title[edit]

The title refers not only to communist Russia, which is the "other country" Bennett turns to in the end, but it can be seen to take on a number of different meanings and connotations. It could be a reference to the first line of the second (or third, depending on the version) stanza of the hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country, which is sung in both the play and film, as well as referring to the fact that English public school life in the 1930s was indeed very much like "another country".

"Another Country" is also the title of a novel by James Baldwin, which includes gay and bisexual characters.

The Go-Between is a novel by L.P. Hartley (1895–1972), published in London in 1953. The movie's framing as the narration of an old man may reference the beginning line of the novel:

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

The most direct reference is to several well-known lines from British literature, originating from Christopher Marlowe's play The Jew of Malta:

Friar Barnadine: "Thou hast committed--"
Barabas: "Fornication-- but that was in another country / And besides, the wench is dead."

Here "the wench" may refer to Martineau. Most of the students are more interested in covering up a potential scandal than worrying about the actual death. If so, the "adultery" may refer to what is done to Martineau and perhaps all students by the school, rather than his actual sexual liaisons.

References[edit]

  • Mitchell, Julian (1982). Another Country: A Drama (First edition ed.). New York: French. ISBN 0-573-64040-8.