SINGLE SPIESat the Chichester Festival Theatre
Alan Bennett's double bill from the 80s looks again at the theme of political exile [explored in The Old Country] and disguise and deception.
This solid revival – touring after this week in its Chichester home – sets both pieces against a forbidding grey stone facade, the portraits of Uncle Joe Stalin replaced in the interval by British monarchs.
Guy Burgess's Moscow flat – a tip, he freely confesses, boasts a chaise longue as well as Stendhal's desk. He entertains Coral Browne to lunch, serving a solitary tomato, playing his only 78. He drops names, is eager for any scrap of gossip. He is measured for a suit; he joins his live-in minder in a pianola and balalaika duet from The Gondoliers.
Nicholas Farrell is a splendidly shambolic Burgess; Belinda Lang a little too stridently Australian as Miss Browne. In a coda before the interval, she recalls asking Lord Harlech about other spies – the Fifth Man. “But he just smiled.”
The Fourth Man, of course, was Sir Anthony Blunt, Master of the Queen's Pictures. Played beautifully - “a cold fish” by David Robb. Farrell this time is Chubb, the investigator who tries in vain to get Blunt to name names. An affable chap from Purleigh superbly suggested in a nuanced performance, talking of art as much as of espionage. Lang is HMQ, capturing her vocal mannerisms precisely, if, again, a little too stridently.
This play is a complex, enigmatic reflection on fakes and façades – a Titian is analysed, conversations run on two levels or more. Perhaps too clever for today's audience. The Hayward Gallery gets its laugh, but the twisted quote from Auden does not. And who now remembers Arthur Marshall, Call My Bluff captain, recalled by Burgess and others as acting Redgrave off the stage in a Dadie Rylands production in twenties Cambridge.