Happy family: Bob and Barbara Jackson (Craig Smith and Kate Armon ) and daughter Julie (Hope Di Sessa). Photo: Nathan Schulz.
Pack of Lies
By Hugh Whitemore
Directed by Nathan Schulz
Javeenbah Theatre Company
Cnr Stevens & Ferry Streets,
Season: until July 15; Bookings: www.javeenbah.org.au
Hugh Whitemore’s Pack of Lies is a story of spies in the London suburbs that resonates more than 30 years after it debuted in the West End in 1983.
The series of real-life incidents, which inspired a TV play in 1971 and, more than a decade later, this play, unfolded back in 1960 and ’61.
Maybe audiences can hardly remember the story of the Portland Spy Ring, but spying and nefarious undertakings between sovereign states is still grabbing headlines around the world.
Nowadays the spying is largely undertaken in the cyber world, but individuals known as cultural attaches sometimes make the news when they are sent home under a cloud.
But in the case of Peter and Helen Kroger, they were jailed for 20 years in 1961 for being the final link in a chain of criminal deceit which led to the Royal Navy base at Portland in Dorset.
The couple was sending secrets about Britain’s nuclear submarine capabilities straight to Moscow with help of radio transmitters and microdots hidden in books, despite being American citizens.
However, Whitemore’s play tackles the very human story of the Kroger’s near neighbours, Bob and Barbra Jackson and teenage daughter Julie, who lived opposite the spies and became their best friends.
The simple straightforward Jacksons, who were totally taken in by the Krogers, are played delightfully by Craig Smith (Bob), Kate Armon (Barbara) and Hope Di Sessa (Julie).
The trio, with more than a little help from Whitemore’s well-crafted script, recreate a thoroughly credible suburban family unit shocked to the core when spook Mr. Stewart turns up on their doorstep with an unusual request.
Mr. Stewart (with another first class acting performance from Graham Scott) wants to place a surveillance team – it ends up being two women – in their daughter’s upstairs bedroom.
Naturally ‘mums the word’ when Thelma and Sally (Samantha McClurg and Linda Furse) come along to work on a rooster in the Jackson’s now disturbed utopia.
(Note: The role of Thelma will be taken by Peta Simeon for one performance only on July 14)
The audience can feel Barbara Jackson’s pain as she is forced to keep up appearances with inquiring and gregarious Helen Kroger (Amy McDonald), while husband Peter (Ken Sauers) is more laid back.
Some audiences might consider Pack of Lies a little long, and perhaps even wordy, in this era of brief snippets, texting and social media, but craftsmanship is the name of the game here.
Nathan Schulz, with some help from veteran theatre co-director Barry Gibson, does a good job of keeping the tension alive and the pair of them were also responsible for creating the Jackson’s living room and kitchen on stage.
The success of community theatre is wholly dependent on team work and multi-tasking – Nathan Schulz is also responsible for sound design and Colin Crowe for the company’s lighting design and operation – but it doesn’t stop there.
It’s not unusual in community theatre to find some of its leading lights stepping down from performing and directing roles to do all sorts of assistant tasks as well as helping in the box office and bar.
Finally, I would like to recommend The Story behind the Stage program in the program and advise readers that the internet is awash with information about all aspects of the fascinating Portland Story.
This is one production destined to leave its audience wanting more.