Sunday, 10 April 2011


Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Old spies never die. As Mull Theatre’s revival of Peter Arnott’s play makes clear, they just find other wars to fight, growing cagier with age and the weight of secrets they carry with them. So it is with Brian Traquair, the Cold War veteran who arrives at his cottage on Mull with old chum Mike Griffen in tow. With Traquair’s daughter Alison as their foil, what first looks like an old school tie reunion gradually unravels to reveal a complex web of bluff, double bluff and the politest of betrayals at every turn.

At first glance, Arnott’s play, set in the sort of oak-panelled domicile not seen since 1970s TV murder mysteries, looks like a deeply old-fashioned, if fiercely intelligent appropriation of such a hoary old form. The oblique sparring resembles Pinter’s 1974 play, No Man’s Land.

Here, however, with the stakes raised to include Iraq, Afghanistan and every other war the British government has been culpable in, Arnott is more explicitly political. With Osama Bin Laden observed as a ‘soft-headed rich boy with God up his arse’ the secrets and lies laid bare by an establishment seemingly in retreat are utterly contemporary.

There are times in Arnott’s own production, recast since its 2005 premiere, where it ties itself up in ideological knots, so talkily labyrinthine are the resemblances to a left-leaning Frederick Forsyth. Kern Falconer’s gimlet-eyed Traquair, Mark McDonnell’s tormented Griffen and Mary Wells’ slightly too young Alison prowl around each other with steely intensity. While a tad over-egged, Arnott has created a forensically fascinating look at how what passes for democracy in these parts can be subverted by an all too real enemy within.

The Herald, June 1st 2007


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