Alan Bennett’s Single Spies is a performance of two one act plays centred around Cambridge spies who sought to betray Britain in the 1930s. It is the story of Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt – two members of the Cambridge Five, a group of spies recruited at Cambridge university.
The plays are cleverly written, Bennett has a quick-witted style of writing that combines both humour and subtext to create a play that is highly fitting to the time in which it is set yet appealing to a modern audience.
The first play, An English Man Abroad is a glimpse into the life of Guy Burgess (Nicholas Farrell), a member of the Cambridge spy ring that worked for the Soviet Union who is consequently in exile. He is visited by actress Coral Browne (Belinda Lang) and befriends her in order to get some suits from his tailor back in the UK.
Nicholas Farrell is excellent as the frantic yet charming Guy Burgess, his character appears unkept and slovenly and despite his treachery I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the desperate character. Belinda Lang exudes sophistication as the pretentious actress Coral Browne. Whilst she attempts to understand Burgess, her empathy for him is evident, Lang’s characterisation is exemplary especially in her break out monologues interwined within the scene giving us a deeper understanding of her character’s background.
An English Man Abroad is a touching play about their short-lived friendship and Guy Burgess’ attempts to hold on to his Soviet life. The chemistry between Farrell and Browne is superb, their pacy and wry conversation went down marvelously with the audience.
The second play A Question of Attribution is about the double life of espionage Anthony Blunt as an art historian to Her Majesty the Queen and a soviet spy.
David Robb plays Anthony Blunt, a much drier and and less colourful spy as opposed to Guy Burgess, although a much cleverer and highly intriguing character. Robb portrays the character as much more reserved which captivates the audience into discovering his motives.
He is interrogated by HMQ herself played by Belinda Lang, Lang’s interpretation of the role is exceptional. Her contrast between both roles in the production is excecuted impeccably showing her admirable versatility as an actress.
A Question of Attribution is a lot heavier than An English Man Abroad and I felt it required a bit of reading up on the subject of the recruiting of the Cambridge ring of spies, as I found myself lost during certain parts of the script.
Single Spies is a witty and charming performance with a highly impressive script and formidable acting.
On until the 27th of February at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, tickets are available here.