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Ciphers

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
There's a greyness looming over Dawn King's new play, a co-production between Out of Joint, the Bush Theatre and Exeter Northcott Theatre. It's not just the clean-lined hue of of the screens that move across the stage to reveal each brief scene. Nor is it the chicly utilitarian desk and chair that double up as assorted interview rooms, hotel bedrooms and artist's studio. Rather, in King's dramatic investigation into the mysterious death of a young female Secret Service agent, it's something about the humdrum mundanity of undercover lives and the over-riding loneliness of the long-distance double agent that gives the play its inscrutable pallor.

It opens with Justine being interviewed by Sunita for a job as a spy. As she moves quickly through the ranks, Justine's blankness becomes an asset, as terrorist plots are uncovered and enemy agencies infiltrated. Only when she becomes emotionally involved, both in her work and with married artist Kai, does Justine's life gradually unravel. As her spikier sister Kerry investigates what she believes to be foul play following Justine's death, it becomes clear that Justine was double-crossed by everyone around her.

Four actors play eight parts in Blanche McIntyre's tense production, including a vivid Grainne Keenan, who flits between a mousy Justine and the more mercurial Kerry in an instant. This is a device which tellingly exposes the over-riding duplicity of Justine's world, where an entire establishment can exploit her insecurities just as much as a lover can. If there is a slight lurch into melodrama towards the end, one suspects that a whole lot of incidents a good deal stranger than fiction are under real-life surveillance right now.

The Herald, November 14th 2013

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