Civic Players are in the final two weeks of rehearsal of their Alan Bennett double bill, ‘Single Spies’. Audiences who know Bennett’s acclaimed writing for the stage from ‘The History Boys’ or ‘The Madness of King George’ will find his characteristic wit, clever and entertaining dialogue and sensitive portrayal of human strengths and weaknesses in these fine plays.
In the first play, ‘An Englishman Abroad’, Guy Burgess is living in drab, Soviet-era Moscow, nostalgic for England, in limbo but still conjuring a defiant resilience in exile. In a chance meeting with the actress Coral Browne, who is in Moscow performing in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘Hamlet’, he reveals his poignant yet wry thoughts about both his native country and the USSR.
Newly released documents from the National Archive show that this meeting actually took place, resulting in Burgess persuading Coral Browne to order suits for him from his Saville Row tailor (as happens in the play), an act which illustrates his undiminished nostalgia for Englishness.
‘A Question of Attribution’ focuses on Anthony Blunt before he was exposed as a spy but during a time when, whilst Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, he was being monitored by MI5. The play very skilfully (and wittily) explores key themes of authenticity, deception and exposure as Blunt examines visible and hidden details in famous paintings with a researcher in the Courtauld Institute and then, in a delightful episode, the Queen in a corridor in Buckingham Palace. Bennett’s Blunt is witty, evasive, sardonic and sophisticated, able to analyse both art and, subtly, his own treachery.
Paul Smith, Chairman of Civic Players, directs ‘A Question of Attribution’ and takes the role of Burgess in ‘An Englishman Abroad’. He said, “These two plays are really fine entertainment. They are very funny, intriguing and genuinely entertaining. Audiences should find lots to enjoy.” With a cast which includes actors from last year’s acclaimed production of ‘Calendar Girls’ alongside other seasoned performers, audiences are in for another treat from Civic Players.
‘Single Spies’ is at Wellington Arts Centre from Wednesday 26 to Saturday 29 March at 7.30. Tickets from the Arts Centre Box Office or from Cloud Nine in the High Street.
Report & Photos: Gill Paltridge