Single Spies

Date 2nd April 2022
Society The Green Room Theatre, Wilmslow
Venue Green Room Theatre
Type of Production Play


Author: Stephanie Niland (District 1 Drama Rep)

Single Spies is a pair of unusual one act plays about two of England’s most notable spies: Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt. The first being An Englishman Abroad and the second A Question of Attribution.  An Englishman Abroad is based upon the true story of a meeting in Moscow between the infamous spy, Guy Burgess and celebrated English actress Coral Browne. This intimate portrayal of a lonely man is eloquent and touching. It explores his inner turmoil of sticking by his political principles and his strange but poignant yearning for involvement in upper class Britain, where he has his roots. 

Paul Lewis as Guy Burgess was convincing, and he carried some huge chunks of dialogue with skill and poise. It is a difficult job to keep such intellectual and wordy monologues entertaining and takes a lot of vocal skills to bring light and shade to a piece such as this. 

Victoria Johnston took on the role of Coral Browne as a last-minute casting change, due to Jane Newman being ill and unable to perform. Victoria was engaging and put in a fabulous and humorous performance as this upper-class actress. Even though it was played with script in hand, the character and lines never faltered. Well done!

The direction was very assured. There were confident choices in the blocking and it was very considerate of the fact that it was played to audiences on two sides. Congratulations Helen Bingle. 

A Question of Attribution, again was directed with confidence by Linda Batson. A split stage, with clearly defined areas and I particularly liked the corridor scene set up for Buckingham Palace. The use of the space and furniture alongside the well-considered mapping of character’s movements and the projected images created much interest in this play. 

All performers were of a high standard but Gemma Duncan as Queen Elizabeth was very believable, she was played with grace and gentle gravitas and an intimate twinkle was a constant feature. 

John Westbrook as Sir Anthony Blunt was particularly pleasing too. A relaxed and knowing energy emanated from him and he delivered high-brow dialogue with certainty while helping to keep the audience up to speed with the terminology and philosophical aspects of the script which otherwise may have escaped us. 

An interesting piece of theatre, with no real message and containing no real juicy stories about actual spying, but more a discussion on intellectual and academic aspects of culture, art, literacy and society. It was sometimes hard to wade through the masses of clever word play and terminology/theory, indeed it felt, somehow, like attending a lecture but the performances and direction were accomplished and competent – well done!