Single Spies review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘intelligently handled’
Single Spies is, in large part, a deep dive into the culture which produced and protected the Cambridge spy ring during the Cold War.
The two short plays making up the programme focus on Guy Burgess’s exile (An Englishman Abroad) and the keeper of the Queen’s pictures Anthony Blunt, after his discovery as a spy but before his public exposure (A Question of Attribution). Both refuse easy condemnation, using the insider/outsider spy as metaphor to explore both the nature of ‘Englishness’ and the ways in which a person, seen in different lights, might have either hidden depths or no depths at all.
In keeping with Bennett’s use of extended metaphors Louie Whitemore’s design artfully combines abstract and naturalistic elements. This is nowhere more evident than when naturalistic room settings are revolved to foreground their otherwise barely perceptible rake, the resulting tableaux being evocatively lit by Andrew J Lindsay.
Director Tom Littler keeps the shorter Burgess play tight and focused. The Blunt play is a looser, more abstractedly intellectual affair, and there could have been more tension in the guarded meetings between between Blunt and his police handler, or during his meeting with the queen.
There are some fine performances. James Duke as Blunt offers just the right mix of intelligence and wariness, Theo Fraser Steele suggests the depths and shallows of Burgess in exile and Karen Ascoe is excellent as Coral Browne as well as playing the Queen.