Pack of Lies is based on a true story. Set in west London, in what is a quintessentially middle-class suburbia. The year is 1961. Bob and Barbara Jackson together with their teenage daughter, Julie, enjoy a mundane, yet comfortingly predictable, lifestyle. Their neighbours, Helen and Peter Kroger, live in a bungalow overlooking the Jackson’s house. Helen and Barbara are very different yet very close. The former is gregarious while the latter is gentle and content.
A dark cloud descends over the warm and trusting friendship once Mr Stuart, an MI5 officer, appears and asks the Jacksons for access to their upstairs window to conduct surveillance of the street to establish the identity of a particular individual. The information he offers them is cagey but they are made to understand that it is essential.
The tension is gradually ratcheted up in this superbly performed production. The mundane is overshadowed by the uncertainty introduced into the household in the form of an officer sitting in Julie’s bedroom and keeping an eye on the comings and goings in the street. Barbara at one point spots that the mysterious individual Mr Stuart is after, has just come out of the Kroger’s bungalow. Confusion and uncertainty throw Barbara off balance, changing the Jacksons’ mood to one of fear and confusion. Barbara seems to be comfortable with her husband’s decisions but is now thrown out of her comfort zone, sending her to the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her strong sense of honesty and of what is right and wrong is challenged by Mr Stuart’s demand to continue the surveillance operation beyond the initial two days.
Finty Williams as Barbara Jackson, gives an outstanding performance, following in the footsteps of her parents, Judi Dench and Michael Williams, who starred as the Jacksons in the original 1983 production. Chris Larkin, Maggie Smith’s son, is a splendid Bob Jackson. Macy Nyman’s Julie meanwhile, is a breath of fresh air – she masterfully pulls together the triangle with Helen Kroger and her parents, Bob and Barbara, helping to sustain a degree of honest warmth even under the new strains generated by Mr Stuart.
Tracey-Ann Oberman’s Helen is delightfully projected. She is a very outgoing and friendly individual, yet her eyes, like a sophisticated camera, register all. Nonetheless, she fails to sniff the danger in time to flee. It seems that her trust and affection for the Jacksons throw her off guard. Jasper Britton’s Steward is a man of mission whose empathy for Barbara is a mere lip service to secure the ultimate goal of continuing the surveillance as long as it takes to secure the necessary evidence.
Hugh Whitemore’s play hasn’t dated. The issues at the heart of the play are still relevant today. With Russian espionage on the British Navy currently hitting the headlines, the play raises the question of how much authorities need to lie to clinch the evidence.
Paul Farnsworth’s set design is simple, yet brilliant. Apart from the meticulous period touch, it offers a total transparency of what is happening at the Jackson’s house on the ground floor, as if to say, we have nothing to hide. Yet, the activity that takes place on their second floor, the surveillance, and the Kroger’s bungalow, are part of the deception of this innocent household.
It is a particular pleasure to see the post-press night’s performance when many students attended and thoroughly enjoyed the show.
- By Hugh Whitemore
- Directed by Hannah Chissick
- Cast includes: Chris Larkin, Finty Williams, Macy Nyman, Tracey-Ann Oberman, Alasdair Harvey, Jasper Britton, Natalie Walter and Sia Dauda
- Menier Chocolate Factory
- Until 17th November 2018
- Time: 20:00. Matinee: Saturdays and Sundays 15:30.