Thursday, 5 March 2009

Pack of Lies - Richmond Theatre

Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore
Director: Christopher Morahan
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore is an extended version of his 1980s television drama based on events of two decades earlier. Nevertheless it resonates with today’s atmosphere of surveillance and suspicion. Therefore it is easy to identify with the predicament of the family central to this story.

Julie Godfrey’s set shows us all that we need to know about their world. By the clever means of an invisible wall we can see at once the living room, hall and kitchen, furnished as they would have been in the immediate post war days of Bob and Barbara’s early years of marriage. Perhaps they would not have had floor length curtains but they would certainly have suffered one of those inefficient little water heaters over the sink and it was a nice touch to have a kettle that actually boiled. We can even see the street where they lived.

Lighting by Tom Howett was unnoticeable, a compliment. There was only one hitch when sunlight shone in at the back door when all the characters coming in at the front were soaked to the skin, but this was the fault of the door, not the lighting.

Theo Holloway’s choice of music did much to set the era and precise times of day with the signature tunes of “In Town Tonight” and “Music While You Work”. It even produced one of the laughs with its aptness.

Jenny Seagrove’s performance is in great contrast with the role in which many will know her best, that of Judge John Deed’s bird in the television series. No danger of type casting, then, for such an accomplished actress.

Lorna Luft. How wonderful to see a normal sized woman playing a leading role in an important production. Perhaps her genuine American accent would not convince everyone that she was Canadian in these days of mass media, but she would have largely got away with it in 1960. Her performance was full of warmth and concern. It subtly distracted attention from her character’s suspiciously lavish presents and the amount of money she must have spent at the hairdresser’s. I do hope it was one of Betty Marini’s wigs.

Simon Shepherd’s Bob is the steady and loving father but still aware that dreadful things can happen to threaten his family and he, Barbara, Peter and Helen all have narrative spots in which director Christopher Moran takes them aside while they put us in the picture of their lives before the beginning of the show .

Robert Slade’s Peter, a real Canadian but playing an American, is the shadowy intellectual, overpowered by his bouncy, bossy wife.

The sinister Mr Stewart (Roy Marsden/Daniel Hill) tries to appear casual and unconcerned but leaves us in no doubt as to his real purpose.

It is hard to imagine that Corrine Sawers is not a fifteen-year-old studying for her O levels. She speaks, moves and even sits in that slightly gawky way of a young person turning into an adult. Even her mother says at one time she is “only a child” and a few weeks later completely contradicts herself.

Emma Kearney and Rebecca McQuillan portray those who are “only obeying orders” are suitably stolid.

We do not witness the final denouement of the play but we are left in no doubt as to its effect on an ordinary family which could easily be our own.

Although the subject matter, of betrayal on many levels, international, social and personal, “Pack of Lies” is an intriguing evening’s entertainment not to be missed.

Pack of Lies runs at The Richmond Theatre until Sat 7th March 2009
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