Review - Pack of Lies at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Pack of Lies
Our critics rating: 
Monday, 15 October, 2018
Review by: 

This is the sort of play that was once a staple of the West End: a well-made, old-fashioned drama, full of heart and craft, that could open there 'cold', without a prior run in a subsidised or independent theatre like the Menier, and run for a year. The original production in 1983 starred husband and wife team Michael Williams and Judi Dench at the same time they were starring together in the TV series A Fine Romance, as singletons trying to pursue a relationship.

In Pack of Lies, they played a long-married suburban couple, living in Ruislip with their teenager daughter, who are called upon to allow the security services to keep watch on their Canadian neighbours across the street from their house. 

Now Dench and Williams's own daughter Finty Williams boldly steps into a role that her mother won an Olivier Award for, to play Barbara Jackson, the housewife who becomes anguished by the personal betrayal she is being asked to make of the warm, friendly neighbour Helen Kroger and her husband Peter who have become regular visitors to their home. 

And the first thing to be said about Williams is that although it is tempting to watch her while thinking of her own famous mum, she is entirely her own actress: she brings her own understated yet wrenching sense of pain to a character who finds a huge emotional cost in what she is being asked to do. 

She duly animates the play with a very English sense of reserve that conceals deep feeling. This is not surface acting, but as rich in unspoken communication as her body language conveys awkward embarrassment, even terror. 

The dark power of suppressed emotions barely concealed beneath the apparently calm surface put me in mind of Terence Rattigan, and one of his very best plays The Deep Blue Sea. (I'd love to see Finty Williams play Hester Collyer). 

Hannah Chissick's warm-hearted production also features telling performances across the board, including three other actors who also have well-known acting parents, too. Playing opposite Williams as her stage husband Bob is Chris Larkin (son of Maggie Smith), who is beautifully contained as he tries to protect his family from the dreadful consequences of having to betray their friends, and Macy Nyman (daughter of actor/writer Andy Nyman, who will appear on this same stage next as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof) is a delight as their daughter. 

Jasper Britton (son of the late Tony Britton) is also superb as the intelligence officer who leads the spying mission, and Tracy-Ann Oberman and Alasdair Harvey capture the contradictions of their characters well: Oberman, particularly, betrays a brittle sense of suspicion beneath the apparently warm exterior. 

Paul Farnsworth's design, running the entire width of the Menier's auditorium, is a masterful recreation of a suburban home, complete with a car parked in the garage at the side. 

Pack of Lies is at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 17th November. 

Pack of Lies tickets are available now. 

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