I was drawn to Hugh
Whitemore's play over fifteen years ago.
It echoed an event I experienced during
my first year in Canada while I taught
English in an international language
school in Ottawa. Many of my clients
worked for foreign embassies. At the end
of one course my husband and I received
and accepted an invitation to dinner at
the home of the then Third Secretary of
the Soviet Embassy.
As politeness (and
will) dictated, I reciprocated this
invitation. Vladimir asked if I were
certain, since he was usually followed,
and such an act would attract attention
for the Canadian Authorities. I
responded, naively parhaps, that I had a
right to invite whomever I wished to my
home because Canada was a free country.
He suggested that when he and his wife
arrived, he should park in front of my
car to mask the Soviet diplomatic
plates. I thought he was being
over-dramatic. They came to supper and
we have an enjoyable evening.
A few days later, we were visited by
two Canadian 'agents'. They explained
that befriending a member of the Soviet
Embassy put us in a unique situation
which could be useful. They wanted us to
nurture the 'friendship' and to relay
any information we were told, to them.
They asked my husband about his
occupation both here and in the UK and
whether he had ever signed the Official
Secrets Act (which he had). He could not
go into detail about what he did in the
UK because of that act, but he told them
that it had involved developinginfra-red detectors for heat-seeking
missiles. The agent writing notes nearly
fell off the sofa on hearing that.
I refused their request, saying I
would rather end the friendship that use
the friendship. And that, sadly, is what
we had to do. The agents came by a few
more times asking questions, alsways in
a different car! I felt paranoid for
weeks, believing I was being followed.
It was an uncomfortable start to my new
life in Canada.
It is not suprising that Pack of
Lies interested me. It is a
thought-provoking play which examines
the themes of friendship versus
patriotism, of loyalty and deception. It
also considers how little power the
ordinary man has to say 'no' when he
wants to take a stand against state
In the play, an ordinary family, the
Jacksons, have to deal with state
infiltration into their lives by a
patronizing authority figure, Stewart.
He uses them, but frustratingly will not
disclose any information. They descend
into a situation where the apparent
deception and disloyalty they abhor in
their friends, become exactly what they
are required to do in the name of
patriotism. As Barbara says, "We're all
playing the same rotten game". And they
hate themselves for it. Barbara
especially wrestles with her impotence
to argue abainst the imperative of
patriotism and the moral angst she feels
at betraying her closest friend. The
events turn everyone involved into
either liars or withholdrs of truth.
There are no winners.
Lonsdale, Kroger and the other
characters were fascinating to research
on the Internet. The details, including
the 'boiler' incident at the end of the
play, and what happened to Ethel
Rosenberg, are all documented. Today we
hear of respected colonels being serial
killers, locals being terrorists or
paedophiles . . .
How well do you know your friends and
P.S. I did bump into Vladimir in
Zellers about a year later, just beforethe end of his term in Canada. We hugged
warmly and cursed politics!