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Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitmore

Stars Alfred Molina, Michael York and Terri Garr, directed by Martin Jarvis – interested?  Well you should be. The real stars?  Rosalind Ayres and Hugh Whitmore for a superb performance in a great play.

Lying and deceit are at the heart of this drama.  I can’t really call it a cold war thriller because it isn’t, but it’s not a kitchen sink drama either.  That is what makes it so interesting.  The idea that alongside middle class surburbia, there can be the world of Harry Palmer and George Smiley. Reds under the bed? Not really, more like secrets behind neighbour’s doors.

I pulled out Rosalind Ayres (the current Mrs Jarvis I believe) performance as the nervous Barbara simply because it would have been very easy to make the part into some kind of OTT nervous breakdown.  What we actually see is a woman wracked (and wrecked) by her desire to tell the truth and believe the best in people.

Micheal York as – for a better word – ‘The man from the ministry’ is excellent.  he plays it somewhat like Guy Doleman in The Ipcress File (Don’t slouch into my office like a pregnant camel… what a great line)  but with a little more humanity. It may be his job but you feel even he doesn’t really enjoy all the lies.

There is fact behind the fiction, this is based on a true story, but I am not sure what that adds to what you hear. It is obviously a play, the lack of locations (there is one) and heavy dialogue show its antecedents, but that hardly matters.  Not the when the dialogue and the performances (all of the performances without exception) are just so very good.

Everyone in this is very real, almost understated and you do care, by the end of it you can almost taste the tension and weariness in the house.  The period detail is there but not overly precise or in your face.  You know its broadly the sixties and the cold war is at it’s height and that is enough.

When we hear the monologues from Peter and helen about the life that lead them to spy one feels sympathy but not necessarily understanding, which I think is probably right. This is not a political play; the politics is a player but not the focus.

The original West End / Broadway productions were great successes, if they were much better than this radio play then the Lyric Theatre must have been outstanding in 1983 because that’s how I feel about this play – outstanding.


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