Saturday, 17 April 2021

REVIEW: A Splinter of Ice by Original Theatre at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre (Online)

Original Theatre online has produced some very interesting, good quality streamed shows over the last year including the pertinent and touching Good Grief and the intriguing monologues of Barnes People. The latest full-length play is Ben Brown’s new political drama, A Splinter Of Ice which is a fascinating exploration of friendship and isolation of spies and spy literature. Captured by Tristan Shepherd with three cameras on the stage of the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, it justifies the relatively high streamed price and is available until 31st July.

The play focuses on the last meeting of the author and former MI6 agent Graham Greene with one of the notorious Russian spies, Kim Philby in his rather poorly furnished flat in Moscow in February 1987 and is based on true events and relationships. Their conversation reviews their past time together and the motivations for their actions and the way they have been portrayed in novels and the media since. It is wordy with lots of necessary exposition, but the writing engages us both in understanding a most significant episode in the cold war and the understanding and friendship between these two famous people.

The tentative polite conversation as Greene arrives at the flat while visiting Moscow for a Peace Conference gradually widens out as their long-standing friendship opens up their thoughts. Familiar names tumble out from stars like Peter Ustinov and Yoko Ono at the conference, to spies (and friends) like Guy Burgess, George Blake, and Donald McClean to former spy and author John Le Carre who wrote the introduction to the critical book about Philby called “The spy who betrayed a generation”. 

There is an amusing exchange between the two men about Greene’s novella and screenplay The Third man (1949) in which Philby assumes it was about him even though it was written two years before he first came under suspicion as the third man. It was twelves years later that he defected in 1963 from Beirut to Russia. When asked what he missed Philby says his family and cricket to which Greene asks, “what position, third man?” to which the spy replies “no, deep extra cover”. Throughout we begin to understand the deep-seated belief the spy had in the communist cause since Cambridge which justifies in his mind the death of those men who he betrayed but also the respect and friendship which Greene still feels towards him despite this. Philby emotionally recalls the isolation he felt on arrival in Russia until he met Rufa.

The play is beautifully and convincingly acted by Oliver Ford Davies as Graham Greene and Stephen Boxer as Kim Philby with Sara Crowe as his Russian fourth wife Rufa Philby. The stage is cleverly lit by Jason Taylor so the bare stage with a few battered old pieces of plain furniture becomes an intimate setting for the conversation despite the lack of a box set. Boxer prowls around the stage like a caged animal drinking, smoking, and testing Greene’s friendship. The Direction by Alan Strachan with Alastair Whatley keeps us interested and intrigued and sympathetic to the characters despite the deeds they discuss. I was enthralled and will definitely look out for the play when it tours the UK later this year.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★★

Price of Ticket: £20 | Seat: Online
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