Sat 4th February to Sat 11th February
A witty portrayal of two of the most intriguing double agents in British history, beautifully realised in this double bill.
Phil Reynolds remembers ...
A story I've told often but one that deserves being recorded here for posterity: I played Guy Burgess in the first of the two plays, and Elliot Relton-Williams was my Russian boyfriend, Tolya. On the opening night there was a severe snowstorm; Elliot had been having a quick ciggie outside the back door of the theatre wearing his heavy Russian overcoat and fur hat, and made his first entrance into my Moscow flat covered in real snow!
Single Spies is a double bill comprising of two plays that are linked by similar themes. 'An Englishman Abroad' is based on the true story of a meeting in Moscow between Coral Browne (an actress and the wife of Vincent Price) and Guy Burgess, the notorious spy who worked for the Soviet Union as a member of the 'Cambridge Five' whilst with MI6. 'A Question of Attribution' is based on Anthony Blunt's role as another member of the Cambridge Five and as personal art advisor to the Queen. It portrays his interrogation by MI5 officers, his work researching and restoring art, and his relationship with Her Majesty. These plays are about real people, the roles are intriguing, the text subtle and pithy; the whole piece is masterfully crafted by Alan Bennett with his acute powers of observation, wit and understatement.
Single Spies, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, until Saturday. Running time 2 hours 30 mins.
TWO gems from Alan Bennett wrapped up in this quintessentially English evening, even though one play is set in a squalid Russian flat and the other partly in Buckingham Palace.
In the second play, A Question of Attribution, Anne-marie Greene pops a plum in her mouth and makes a wonderful job of being Her Royal Highness, chatting to her official advisor on pictures, Sir Anthony Blunt - even though he's long been identified as a spy.
Amazingly it's not until 1979, that Blunt is named, at first anonymously, as the fourth man in a book about how he, Burgess, MacLean and Philby were all recruited as potential double agents at Cambridge.
It's prime minister Margaret Thatcher who officially 'outs' the knight - though in his play Bennett suggests the Queen certainly had a clue or two about what was going on under her own palace roof.
Good to see Mark Wiszowaty back on stage at the Criterion in the scholarly role of Blunt, who offers the audience the bonus of a lesson in art as well as espionage.
Peter Brooks is also convincing as the representiave of the law who regularly turns up to offer Blunt the chance to save himself from public disgrace if he'll only help with some picture viewings of his own.
I couldn't help thinking this play could have done with a little pruning in dialogue, though please don't let Alan Bennett hear me say that.
The first play, An Englishman Abroad, is simpler, and based on the details of a genuine meeting between Guy Burgess and the Australian actress Coral Browne, who visited Moscow in 1958 with a touring production of Hamlet.
Burgess was desperate for news of England and some new suits from his London tailor.
Phil Reynolds has great fun as the mischievous, homesick, Burgess with a good singing voice, and I particularly admired Cathryn Bowler's timing as Coral, switching between boredom, sympathy and anger.
I was also glad of director Jane Railton use of real film from the time which helped set these two plays in their politically idealistic, some would say, naive, context.
Congratulations to all involved.