Pack of Lies
By Hugh Whitemore
21 - 26 February, 2011
The Krogers bring a birthday present
Mr Stewart explains what they need
Barbara Jackson is comforted by Thelma
Mr Stewart explains what the Krogers we doing
Based on the true story of the Krogers, convicted in 1961 of spying for the Russians, this play is a fictional account of the quiet, totally unsuspecting Jackson family who live opposite the Krogers and consider them their closest friends. When an MI5 official arrives to use the Jacksons’ house as a surveillance post their decent, happy life is shattered as they are plunged into a sordid, alien world of deceit and intrigue...S
In 1961 Helen and Peter Kroger were found guilty of spying for the
Russians and were sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. In 1969 they
were exchanged for a Britain subject jailed in Moscow, and flew off to
Poland amidst a great hullaballoo in the press. From these true facts
Hugh Whitemore has written a powerful, moving, fictional account of the
events leading up to their arrest with the action centred on the totally
unsuspecting Jackson household – Bob, Barbara and their daughter
The Jacksons were based on the true life Search family whose home was used by MI5 as a surveillance post. Gay Search and her father helped with the writing of the play by describing the full story of their involvement with the Krogers who were their best friends and the key role they played in the Krogers’ capture.
Before starting work on the play, Hugh Whitemore wrote to the man who was in charge of MI5 day by day handling of the case asking if he could have an informal conversation about the events surrounding the capture of the “Portland Spy Ring” of which Helen and Peter Kroger were part. The gentleman replied most courteously but regretted that he was unable to meet him. He said that his “former masters” had imposed “a total embargo on interviews of any sort”. This set him asking questions. Who are these former masters? Is it ever possible for the average, relatively powerless, man or woman to make anything more than a token stand against officialdom? Is it perhaps naive to expect more than an approximate degree of truthfulness from governments and their spokesmen?
With modern satellite communication systems and advanced global surveillance techniques we may think the idea of undercover spies has gone but let us remember the events of 2010 when a network of Russian agents were uncovered in America leading very ordinary domestic lives – going to work, getting married, having children. Perhaps the events we see portrayed in ‘Pack of Lies’ are more relevant than we like to imagine.
This play was first presented in October 1983 and starred Judi Dench and Michael Williams as Barbara and Bob Jackson. It was an immediate success and has continued to impress and interest audiences both here and particularly in America and Canada ever since. It is fascinating to consider how any one of us, leading a decent happy life, might under similar circumstances find ourselves helpless in an alien, sordid world of deception and treachery.