Sunday, 15 March 2009

Pack of Lies

9 March 2009
Milton Keynes Theatre

Good story but not tightly packed!

I’ve never found the seats at the Milton Keynes Theatre to be particularly uncomfortable before. And I saw High Whitemore’s Pack of Lies a few years ago and thought it was a good story. So why did I find myself shifting around in my seat for more or less the entire two hours duration of this show? Well, in short, I think it’s because this production needed a big kick up the proverbial behind it!

It’s still a good story.

In short, a bloke, Mr Stewart (Daniel Hill) turns up at the house of Bob and Barbara (Simon Shepherd and Jenny Seagrove) and their teenage daughter Julie (Corinne Sawers) to ask if they can use their home as a surveillance house. After a bit of persuasion they agree, but it turns out that their house is being used to watch their best friends, Peter and Helen Kroger, (Peter Slade and Lorna Luft – yes – Judy Garland’s daughter, no less!) who live across the road, because the powers that be believe that they maybe KGB spies!

It sounds unbelievable that this could happen in a normal suburban street, but it did and the play is based on the true story of the Krogers’, which was quite a famous one in 1961.

The strength of this play is that it sensitively shows the impact of the spy world on a normal family and makes you think about how you would feel if you discovered that everything your best friend had told you about their life was a complete lie and that your friendship was therefore based on nothing. Barbara is devastated by the revelations and Jenny Seagrove’s performance makes this palpable.

It’s quite a sad play in this way but there are also some laughs, many of them coming from the performance of Lorna Luft who is a brash but friendly and incredibly likeable Helen Kroger, a performance that makes the outcome all the more heartbreaking. And Simon Shepherd’s Bob is a good mixture of knowing what is the right thing to do and discomfort at doing it.

The problem is that it’s soooo slow and, on the night I saw it anyway, needed lashings more oooomph! However, if you’re enjoying it you can say that the slow pace is the turning of the screw, the tension building, the claustrophobia. If you’re just shifting around in your seat – it’s just slow!

There is also a feeling of inevitability – you know what’s going to happen, because they keep telling you. They tell you everything, all the time, so much so that you begin to think there must be a massive twist, and to be honest, I think that it would have been a lot more entertaining if there had been. If Mr Stewart turned out to be not who you thought he was, or Bob and Barbara were MI5 or their daughter the real Russian spy, but none of them were, so it all left you feeling rather deflated by the end, thinking “and” – but by then it’s all over. Maybe I watch too many films!

It’s all very interesting and the performances are good – but – just talk a bit faster!

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