Single Spies A Landmark Production


Plays are few and far between at The Grand Theatre these days. So the prospect of a drama and by our own Alan Bennett was something to savour.

Single Spies was first performed in 1988 and consists of two plays – one, an Englishman Abroad, based on Coral Browne’s encounter with Guy Burgess in Moscow in 1958 and the other A Question of Attribution, where Anthony Blunt discusses with the Queen, as her Surveyor of Pictures, the existence of a third man in a portrait to draw parallels between art forgery and treachery.

If the topics sound dull then let me assure you this work is not. It’s entertaining, humorous and gives its audience a deeper understanding of Burgess and Blunt and the spy ring recruited from Cambridge University.

In an Englishman Abroad we see Burgess as an inebriated and rather scruffy individual entertaining actress Coral Browne to lunch, in his far from salubrious flat,  who was touring in Moscow in Shakespeare.

The play swings between moments of great pathos and humour with the actors having to deliver long monologues that never ever become boring and are truly believable with gemstones of one liners.

Belinda Lang is a perfect, feisty and no nonsense Aussie as actress  Coral Browne. Remarkably I was reminded that I had actually seen Miss Browne in her hey day but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.

As Guy Burgess, Nicholas Farrell triumphs in his characterization of a rather sad figure who, although in reduced circumstances, still has some dignity left – such as dispatching his guests to order him suits at his Jermyn Street tailor.

Farrell has some wonderful moments of pure pathos and reflective sadness one moment and extreme comedy the next. One of my favourites  was his rendition with his Russian boy friend of G & S on the pianola and balalaika.

The second play A Question of Attribution takes place in the late 1960’s and involves Sir Anthony Blunt, who acted as a recruiter at Cambridge for the KGB in the thirties,  in a piece that involves  frequent visits from an MI5 inspector and HMQ.

David Robb’s Blunt is arrogant, aloof and very stiff upper lip exactly as it should be. His whole persona makes Blunt come alive in a remarkable way creating nothing short of excellence in the role.

Belinda Lang’s HMQ is just so perfect down to every detail – even the way she holds her handbag! She makes the amazing transformation from the rather hard boiled Browne in the first play to this regal figure with a rather wicked sense of humour in less than it takes to down a glass of white wine in the interval.

Nicholas Farrell too is charged with the same task of changing persona and character when he plays the archetypal East End inspector Chubb, making him so believable and human.

In Single Spies, Farrell, Lang and Robb give three of the most polished and amazing performances that The Grand has seen for a very long time.

Rachel Kavanaugh’s production moves seamlessly and with pace with some excellent creative touches in the set and lighting department.

Completing the cast are a strong team of supporting actors putting their own mark on their cameo roles.

Single Spies is one for theatre lovers whatever their favourite genre. It will be a long time before we get the chance to see a cast with such professional expertise in what is truly a landmark production


The play runs until Saturday 16th April


Liz Coggins.













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