Review – Single Spies – Alan Bennett @Marlowe Theatre.

#Tweetingit – 2* “No Jokes, none at all” says Guy Burgess minutes into the play. Unfortunately, this is pretty much how I felt for the rest of the evening

Alan Bennett’s double bill of plays focuses on the Cambridge 5 Spy Ring. Burgess and Blunt’s  stories are a mystery – little is known about them, what they did, why they did it. And I can promise that this play will not fill in those gaps. So just to give some background – this is the story. Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt,  Donald MacLean and Kim Philby were all employees of the  UK Government  and are the four confirmed members of the Cambridge Five, a spy ring that contributed to the Communist cause with the transmission of secret Foreign Office and MI5 documents that described NATO military and Marshall Plan economic strategy. (thank you Wikipedia).


Single Spies focuses on the first two  – perhaps because they are deemed  the most interesting since they were in a relationship. The first half of the play focuses on Burgess in exile in Moscow, the second on Blunt’s role at the heart of the establishment in London. Few details are given about their lives or what they did, and instead the two playlets focus on the consequences of being removed from everything you know and the disconnect between who we appear to be in comparison with what the reality is respectively.

Despite the play itself not being to my taste – there were some good points; the set was impressive, the costumes were well put together and the actors did a good job. In the first of the two plays, Nicholas Farrell captured the peculiarity of the chain-drinking, unkempt ex-spy although much more could have been made of Burgess as a tragic character; there was a clear love for England, the people, the style and so on and that he didn’t really like “the comrades which could have added depth to this play. The second half was, unfortunately, a somewhat agonizingly long allegory on how things aren’t always what they seem and could’ve been half the length.

The thing is, actually, those people who are going to go to see this play, will do so whatever a review says. To me, however,  it seems dated, the mystery and interest behind Blunt and Guy is not one that is at the forefront of our minds, and the fact that the two were homosexual is not a big shock-horror moment to this modern audience. But there are subsets of theatregoers who will always love an Alan Bennet Play and will titter away at the old fashioned jokes and will let the story unfold in its own good time, letting the metaphors reveal themselves at the point that the character understands gets point, rather than 40 minutes earlier when it became obvious to me.

I did take a few things away though – I like Moscow Mules; the “of the time” drink I had at the interval, double breasted jackets should be banned, that Tision’s The Allegory of Prudence has more than the 3 characters depicted in it (behind the first layer of paint)….and I don’t think I will be going to an Alan Bennett play again.

Writer: Alan Bennet

Director: Rachel Kavanaugh

Running until Saturday 12 May at the Marlowe and then continues on its tour until 30 April.

Published by Playhouse Pickings

Theatre blog run by Rhiannon; a civil servant, D&D player, sci fi fan, immersive theatre lover and gin enthusiast

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: