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Single Spies

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh, 24-29 March 2008
3 stars
The 1930s Cambridge spy ring suggested that signing up to the KGB was a useful alternative to making satirical whoopee elsewhere. Which is what may have piqued ex Oxford Revue defector Alan Bennett’s interest. His 1988 double bill of one-act plays aren’t really concerned with the cloak-and-dagger derring-do of why Guy Burgess and Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures Anthony Blunt became traitors. Rather, by imagining real-life incidents, cause and effect are scrutinised in a very personal manner.

Originally a television film, An Englishman Abroad finds exiled drunk Burgess forming an alliance with actress Coral Browne, who the old soak entrusts to deliver a little bit of the old country in the shape of a brand new suit and some pyjamas. In A Question Of Attribution, Blunt divides his time between his new handlers back in Blighty and the Courtauld Institute’s hallowed halls when an unplanned audience with HMQ ensues.

Both pieces remain as personable as they were last time they toured the commercial circuit five years ago. They also remain as slight. As a vehicle for Nigel Havers and Diana Quick, Christopher Luscombe’s production soft soaps things somewhat. Havers may have upper-crust affectation, but is utterly lacking in edge. Quick revels in playing Browne, though as HMQ is far too shrill for either party to display empathy. This is a shame, as A Question Of Attribution’s exploration of the double-bluff in life and art is an appealingly complex piece of implied sparring. When asked why they betrayed their country, both Burgess and Blunt confess that “It seemed a good idea at the time.” One can’t help but feel the same here.

The Herald - Wed 26 March 2008

ends

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