Single Spies

I love the Tivoli Theatre and I am deeply grateful to those few souls who rescued it from its dire fate for the rest of us to enjoy. So I was really quite pleased to be going there to review this play.

I suppose the first notable thing of the evening was the sheer size of the programme. It contains a fairly lengthy and very interesting dissertation on the history of the infamous Cambridge Spies. It is a shame that I didn’t get to read it all before the plays commenced. Perhaps if I had they wouldn’t have gone completely over my head.

I went into this evening with a completely open mind having somehow missed everything from Alan Bennett’s pen including the 1983 BBC television drama of An Englishman Abroad. I prefer to know little or nothing about the play I am to see, instead letting the story unfold before me, so it was a bit of a surprise to discover I was coming to see two plays this evening, the aforementioned, An Englishman Abroad, and A Question Of Attribution which at some point, the programme explains, Simon Callow dubbed Single Spies.

An Englishman Abroad

The stage was set with a few bits of furniture, beautifully lit, in front of the curtains. A short scene setting voice-over as the house lights faded to black and the atmosphere was set.

And almost immediately broken as we had a flash of light between curtains from the dimly lit stage behind as the actors came through to take up their positions.

The lights came up to reveal Jan Bursby, as Coral Browne. She was immediately engaging and wonderful in a gorgeous red outfit; her diction and clarity of speech faultless. Sadly the same could not be said for Tony Feltham as Guy Burgess. Maybe it was the accent he was trying but he had a tendency to mumble which made it difficult at times to understand him. I’m not sure if his time in Russia had made him so dull but I had rather thought he would be a somewhat flamboyant character.

Apart from a couple of other very small parts, the entire hour was filled by Jan and Tony and that’s a lot of lines to learn. As far as I could tell there was not a line dropped anywhere. On the other hand, there were some opportunities for some really lovely awkward pauses across the table that they didn’t take.

The set dressing and props were brilliant. It really did look grubby.

Lighting was excellent too and I really liked the spot lit narrative asides, delivered directly to the audience.

A Question Of Attribution

If I thought An Englishman Abroad went over my head, A Question Of Attribution disappeared into the stratosphere. Anthony Blunt (who unfortunately reminded me somewhat of John Cleese and possibly Q) explained that  “…there are people who can see and appreciate art, there are those who, if they’ve had it explained, can appreciate it, and there are those who, even having had it explained, still don’t get it”. I am afraid that I fall into the latter category with this play. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get to read the programme to this point.

Richard Neal did a great job of such a wordy role and you could hear everything he said. Sadly, despite a beautifully sonorous voice, it was sometimes difficult to hear Paul Dodman as Chubb; an observation that equally applies to Ann McColgan-Clark as Her Majesty the Queen. Whilst her mannerisms and accent were absolutely spot on, I think I only caught about 50% of what she was saying, which is a great shame as it was a lovely, but very long-winded scene with HMQ, to finally get to her very sharp point!

All in all, I thought the Buckingham Palace set was lovely and again, the costumes were great.

The lighting throughout was spot on. It was a shame that some of the minor parts couldn’t find their light, consistent in both plays.

The programme says these plays are comedies and there was the occasional titter from the packed house, The plays, like the programme, were altogether too wordy, too long and far too clever for me.

It runs until 19th May.