Monday, 23 March 2009

Pack Of Lies theatre stage show review. Jenny Seagrove, Lorna Luft, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne


Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, 23rd March-28th March 2009

CAST (in appearance order)

Bob - Simon Shepherd
Barbara - Jenny Seagrove
Julie - Corinne Sawers
Helen - Lorna Luft
Peter - Robert Slade
Stewart - Daniel Hill
Thelma - Emma Kearney
Sally - Rebecca McQuillan

First night in Eastbourne and a drama with a difference. Not a thriller, not a murder mystery, not a comedy or a farce. Just a drama conveying a total deception of truth and honesty from one set of neighbours and their "best friends" living opposite.

Hardly sounds like a night's riveting entertainment does it?

Except that it is - riveting, eye opening, dramatic, intense and, above all, superbly acted by an outstanding cast.

Pack of Lies is based on the true story of Soviet spies Helen and Peter Kroger (real names Morris and Lana Cohen) who were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 1961. Subsequently and controvercially, in 1969, they were exchanged for a Briton jailed in Moscow.

Lorna Luft as Helen Kroger aka Lara CohenLeading up to their conviction they created, as professional spies I guess would be expected to do, a complete web of deceit spun around all those innocently living around them. In the thick of their plot, however, were the Cohens' "best friends" husband and wife "Bob" and "Barbara" and their daughter "Julie" living opposite.

The drama depicts how this innocent family was affected, not only by their home being used as the ideal stake-out location by the Secret Service, but also how the truth eventually devastated each of the 3 family members in different ways.

Pack of Lies, as a stage show, premiered in the West End in 1983. More than 25 years later it is still going strong, touring the world and getting rave reviews. A TV movie version was also released.

Robert Slade as Peter Groger aka Morris CohenPersonally I hate liars, yet in my lifetime I have encountered many, including my own family. Not just little white lies but wapping great ones aimed at bullying and intimidating those who live amongst and around them.

Perhaps it was this experience that made me empathize with Bob, Barbara and Julie so deeply. It must have been soul destroying to discover everything you thought was perfect was in fact faulty. Every little fact you had ever been told was in fact a cleverly thought out untruth.

This isn't so much a play about spying but the way that lies and deceit affect the innocent and that is why it works well.

And so to the cast. Bloody brilliant!

Daniel Hill as MI5 spy case investigator StewartYou can't really pick out a winner in this cast as it was formidable. But I wish to particularly mention Jenny Seagrove. Before the curtain went up it was announced that Jenny was suffering from a throat problem following a bad bout of the flu and that she apologized that her normal vocal range was affected.

Well Jenny clearly was still suffering from the illness and I think her attitude that "the show must go on" was amazing. To be honest I think the stress and hoarsness
her voice displayed on occasions simply added to the role. The character of Barbara is a stressed out wreck from the moment MI5 start their surveillance from their property. Jenny's throat problem just made her sound all the more anxious and panicky.

Daughter of the legengedary Judy Garland, Lorna Luft is a film and theatre legend in her own right and teaming up with Robert Slade (who has been a professional actor for 27 years) they play the roles of the professional liars formidably.

Young Corinne Sawers plays the role of Julie convincingly. The fact that "Auntie Helen" never really existed at all is soul destroying for the young teenager.

Simon Shepherd as the Krogers neighbour BobFormer Peak Practice actor Simon Shepherd is excellent as Bob having to wake up to the fact that he cannot obstruct the authorities in their investigations whilst at the same time having to stop his family from cracking up and giving the game away to the Krogers who were always popping in to socialize.

The, very friendly, ex Emmerdale actress Emma Kearney plays MI5 undercover agent Thelma brilliantly as does Rebecca McQuillan  who plays her fellow agent Sally.

Finally, playing their MI5 boss "Stewart" is Daniel Hill. I remember Daniel more for his comedy role in the TV series No Place Like Home (as Raymond). But Daniel's career is actually a wide and varied one, both in theatre and TV, with dramatic roles actually outweighing the comedy ones. A mighty fine performance he puts in here too popping in to Bob's family regularly to give them updates, as far as he can, on the investigation.

Pack Of Lies is an intriguing drama which, on the face of it, you'd think would be unlikely to hold your attention for 2 hours. But it does and you come away with the feeling you've seen something just a little bit different.

Being first night the Friend's Of The Devonshire Park Theatre had the opportunity to meet the cast. Jenny unfortunately, but understandably, decided to give her throat a well deserved rest and Daniel had to jump on a train. But the rest of the cast were able to attend.

I'd particularly like to thank Robert Slade for our interesting conversation about the history of spying, the Cold War, and how close the stage play is to actual events. Interesting to hear from him also that the girl who was "Julie" in real life has seen the production and said it was so realistic to what she encountered it brought her to tears.

Emma Kearney as MI5 undercover agent ThelmaEmma Kearney is probably better known nationally for her previous Emmerdale role as Vet Paddy Kirk's girlfriend, Rita Brannigan. Emma is one of the most down-to-earth and friendly actresses you could wish to meet. Very pleasant, chatty and how refreshing to find an actress who actually prefers the reception from a live audience than the results in a TV studio.

For those wondering we did get to meet Jenny and Daniel a few days later
after another performance. I did get a picture with Jenny but promised not to publish it as she was makeup-free at the time. However, whilst I will,of course, stick to that promise Jenny it really is a great photo and you still look great without "artificial additives" and well done again on the superb role as Barbara.

If you get the chance to see this outstanding drama on tour don't forget to get a programme as it is extremely informative with plenty of background on the Cohens' case together with more interesting spy facts.

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