Playwright Julian Mitchell followed the first night of this week’s impressive student revival of his 1981 success Another Country with a question-and-answer session on stage which he prefaced with entirely deserved compliments about the production.

“I love my own play,” he said, “ and I always enjoy seeing it. I particularly enjoy it with young people. Professional actors bring a kind of knowingness which schoolboys don’t have.”

This is to the point. In a play that presents public school life in the 1930s as a microcosm of the wide world beyond, with trivial concerns blown up to matters of mighty moment, it is instructive to see the protagonists portrayed by boys just a year or so out of the classroom.

From Peter Huhne comes a startlingly good performance as Guy Bennett, the central character based on the gay spy Guy Burgess. “I am not a soldier. I’m a schoolboy,” he says after his hilariously shambolic appearance at a military parade has cost his house a coveted cup. When a swishing is prescribed, he rounds on his accusers by threatening to unmask “everyone I’ve done it with over the last three years”.

Among them is strapping sporting hero Delahay (Frederick Bowerman), who is furious at Bennett’s escape. So is odious prefect Fowler (David Shields), a martinet whose later life can be all too accurately predicted, as can that, for instance, of upper-crust squire-to-be Donald Devenish (Howard Coase).

The visit to school by his lecherous Bloomsburyite Uncle Valentine — “the ripest of fruit”, as head of house Barclay (Tim Gibson) calls him — brings opportunity for welcome comedy, gleefully seized by James Methven, the one ‘grown up’ member of the cast.

In a production (director Jessica Lazar) packed with fine performances there is stand-out work from Jo Allen as the principled good-sort Marxist Tommy Judd and from Tom Lambert — impressively playing a lad fully five years younger than he is — as the homesick fag Wharton.


Oxford Playhouse until Saturday. Performances 8pm Friday; 2.30pm and 7.30pm Saturday. Box office: 01865 305305.