Ben Brown’s new political drama about spy Kim Philby and novelist Graham Greene seems ideal for the end of lockdown.
A Splinter Of Ice was destined for the stage but has been filmed by the Original Theatre Company at the Cheltenham Everyman and its claustrophobic almost imprisoned feel seems right for the times.
Philby, played with ice-like enigma by Stephen Boxer is indeed a prisoner . Having defected to Moscow after the equally outrageous escapes to Russia of spies Burgess, Maclean and Blake, he seems trapped in his blind ideology and physically unable to travel West again.
Oliver Ford-Davies is a gentle but persistent inquisitor as the famous writer of spy drama The Third Man , reunited with his friend and ex-MI6 boss Philby in the Moscow of 1987 – after 35 years . Under the guise of speaking at a peace conference, Greene has come to make Philby an offer in the final months of the arch-spy’s life.
The twists and turns of the sedentary setting are every bit as intricate as a spy novel and Brown has scope to explore the themes of deceit, loyalty and friendship in a constantly entertaining and enlightening show.
It helps if you know about the thawing of the Cold War in the late 1980’s, about Gorbachev’s Russian reforms and the cluster of Cambridge graduates who betrayed their country and led to the deaths of many intelligence officers out in the field.
But even if you don’t this is a gripping dissection of a notorious man’s journey of commitment – ironically a stronger faith than the Catholicism which Greene possesses.
Is Philby the model for Greene’s Third Man traitor Harry Lime, did Philby betray his friend as well as his country, is loyalty to a friend more important than loyalty to a cause ? All questions Brown poses.
And in its closing moments , like any good thriller, he gives us two plot twists that are truly intriguing.
Greene tells us there’s a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer but a whole icicle in the heart of a spy. This is certainly a cold-climate analysis of betrayal and belief.
A fantastic watch for all its 90 minutes.
The play is online till the end of July with a physical version on tour from June in Malvern, Guildford, Bath and other places, Covid restrictions allowing .
Details at originaltheatreonline.com
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