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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

New Era - Single Spies

1st to 10th September 2005.

Here is the NWN review.

Warm wit for a cold Era

New Era Players: Single Spies, at the New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from September 1 to September 10

Single Spies is a pair of plays by Alan Bennett about two of the Cambridge Spies: Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt. Bennett’s delicious dialogue has all the wry, dry humour and wit that are characteristic of his work, with some lines that could have come from Oscar Wilde.

The first play, An Englishman Abroad, is about a meeting between Burgess and the actress Coral Browne in Moscow in 1958. Sue Keer, as Coral, had tremendous poise and authority. As Burgess, Keith Keer’s drawling accent grated at first in his opening soliloquy, but somehow fitted perfectly with Sue Keer’s refined accent when they were together. Burgess seemed a pathetic figure, living a life in exile under the Spartan regime of “the Comrades” who supplied him with homosexual lovers, but Bennett, through Browne, gave us a sympathetic view of him. Keith Keer’s characterisation here was excellent, and the two of them, under Stuart Hillman’s direction, gave compelling performances that made this an exhilarating production.

The second play was A Question of Attribution, and covered a time in the late 1960s when Blunt, then Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, was under investigation by the security forces. Tim Oldham played Blunt, sardonic and supercilious; a cold fish. He showed his patrician superiority when being interviewed by MI5 man Chubb, a restrained performance by David Zeke, but the play came to life when he met the Queen at the palace. Anne Oldham was amazing as the Queen; not only was the voice right, she looked like her too. There was a lot of humour in this part, and Blunt’s increasing discomfort as the Queen hinted that the pictures weren’t the only fakes was well done by both of them.

Stuart Hillman and Paul German had small parts in both plays. They did these well, with each having very different roles in the two plays, and Nancy Jane Danks stood up to Blunt effectively as the picture restorer.

The second play, directed by Valerie Maskell, seemed a bit too long, and didn’t have the impact of the first, but the quality of the acting, set design and costumes in both productions shone through.