facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11
Are you missing theatre as much as we are? Support us now with Theatre Tokens and see your favourite shows when they reopen. #IMissTheatre

The Old Country

First Published 17 April 2008, Last Updated 22 April 2008

Alan Bennett’s play about a traitor in exile is set entirely in a house in the middle of a forest. As Timothy West’s Hilary points out, it could be almost anywhere – maybe Scotland, maybe Surrey – but it is in Russia, where Hilary has been living for over a decade, exiled from the country that he betrayed. Matthew Amer joined the audience at the Trafalgar Studio 1 for yesterday’s press night of Bennett’s The Old Country.

Hilary’s home is less of a house and more of a hut; at its most glamorous John Gunter’s set reflects an alpine chalet, with trees climbing past the windows for good measure. Though he is in the middle of a Russian forest, Hilary has taken his England with him; he listens to Elgar and Vaughan Williams, sings his favourite hymns and is surrounded by books, many of them first editions. He shares his enforced holiday home with long-suffering wife Bron (Jean Marsh), who wants to want to leave him, but can’t.

Into their world come Hilary’s sister Veronica – played by Susan Tracy in a suitably pink floral dress as the perfect well-to-do snob – and her newly knighted husband Duff (Simon Williams), a pompous, long-winded, lecturing academic and establishment man. They’ve just dropped in for a visit.

As Duff and Veronica talk about the England they live in, it becomes apparent that both couples are in a form of exile; both are exiled from the England they recognise, an England that doesn’t exist any more due partly to the march of time. As Duff explains to Hilary’s neighbour, a young exile called Eric (Tim Delap) who is eager to return home, “I’m 56; you’re in Russia”.

Bennett reflects on English irony, the nature of exile and home, blending the poignancy of longing for a lost England with trademark humour which includes Hilary’s observation that Johnnie Walker could join a club entitled Alcoholics Eponymous, or, with Jack Daniels, Alcoholics Synonymous.

Duff and Veronica’s visit, however, is not as social as it might seem, and Hilary is left to decide where home really is; the geographical England or the one he has created in Russia.

The Old Country plays at Trafalgar Studio 1 until 6 May. 



Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.