Sunday, June 02, 2013

Suburban Spies : 'Pack of Lies' at The Alexandra Hall, Charlton SE7


Seats in the third row for £7, interval tea and biscuits thrown in (not literally) and a venue that's on the 380 bus route; what could be better?  To the strains of sixties hits,  we anticipated a Saturday night treat from the ever-reliable Alexandra Players.
Hugh Whitemore’s drama, written in 1983, was inspired by the arrest of a spy-ring  in Ruislip in 1961. The play is set in a neighbouring family’s home, deemed an ideal vantage point for surveillance.  It charts the family's reactions as characters step forward in turn at the start of scenes to tell the story from their differing points of view.  As a framing device, it adds depth to story and characters, but  also lowers dramatic tension in a wordy play in which little happens.

Stodgy Bob Jackson (Mark Higgins) and anxious housewife Barbara  (Sue McGeehan)   resent the invasion of their privacy, especially as the look-out point is to be their  teenage daughter Julie’s bedroom. This being respectable Ruislip, emotions are low-key, and a lot of tea is drunk.
What makes things worse for the Jacksons is that they  already know the suspects, although they're ignorant of their neighbours' shady activities. Canadians Helen (Louise Gaul) and Peter (Roy Moore) Kroger, have become their closest friends since they arrived in the quiet suburb five years before.
‘It's  just for the weekend,’  implacable MI5 agent Stewart (Keith Hartley)  tells them, but as days turn into weeks pressure mounts and the teapot is sometimes replaced by the whisky bottle.  

To cram  kitchen and sitting room, the latter dominated by a striking sixties wallpaper design, onto the tiny stage, was a tad ambitious on the part of set designer Robert Hames, although  the cast coped splendidly within the restricted space and Rebecca Williams’ efficient direction ensured the pace never flagged. Any longeurs were  down to a downbeat script where nothing much happened to disturb humdrum suburban lifestyles. The turmoil was all within. 

The acting was of  the high standard  that regulars have come expect from this established troupe. Emma Dalton brought a crisp intelligence to the daughter supposedly about to go off the rails.  Keith Hartley was a physically imposing but gently reasonable M15 agent, and Louise Gaul’s bubbly Helen,  with playful manner and off-colour remarks, was a welcome contrast to the dreary Jacksons. Sue McGeehan , as the sensitive Barbara, ably negotiated a fine line between distress and  hysteria.
All in all, I’d advise playgoers  lucky enough to live within striking distance of SE7 to put  themselves on   the mailing list for  notice of  future productions.

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