Fine performances from Oliver Ford Davies and Stephen Boxer, strong support from Sarah Crowe, make this fascinating account of the meeting between Graham Greene and Kim Philby in Moscow in 1987 a spellbinding affair. To be honest a good fat programme note would help and hopefully one will be provided when it goes on tour as the world of those celebrated spies – Burgess, Maclean, Blake and Philby – has long gone although John Le Carre did keep it alive for decades. Greene is in Moscow for a conference. Glasnost has arrived, Gorbachev is changing things. He has come to visit his old friend – and fellow spy, although Greene was not a traitor, and Philby does not see himself as one, but as a loyal Communist doing what he thought right and if British spies died because of what he told the Russians that was the risk all spies took. The two men fence elegantly in Philby’s apartment while his wife Rufa plyed on line by Sarah Crowe prepares dinner, and confides in Greene that her husband has not long to live. Why is Greene there? He did, when Philby published his book, write the foreword to it saying that there was a splinter of ice in the heart of a traitor, but a whole icicle in the heart of a spy. Is he there along with a mixed bag of celebrties attending a conference and has just taken the chance to see an old friend it has not been possible to visit until now? Or is there more to it than that? Greene was another of that generation like Le Carre who became a spy. Once a spy always a spy.
It is enthralling watching Ford Davies’ warm, detached obliging Greene turn into someone much more ruthless and seeking something while Philby slowly explains what he did and the reasons why as they down vodka after vodka.Meanwhile unseen in the room next door sits Kilby’s minder possibly listening to what is being said.
It makes good watching streamed and should make even better watching in the theatre where these actors will surely exercise full control over the audience. Crowe is wonderfully enigmatic, a loyal wife or is she a good Russian also keeping watch on this once valuable man? She will not be touring with the play but essentially it is a duel between the two men.
Filmed on stage at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham this Original Theatre production directed by Alan Strachan is – a cliche, I know – spellbindin.
Greene: Oliver Ford Davies.
Philby: Stephen Boxer.
Rufa Philby: Sarah Crowe.
Director; Alan Strachan with Alastair Whatley.
Designer: Michael Pavelka.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Original Music & sound; Max Pappenheim.
Runs 90 mins with interval.
Tickets on line £20. With digital programme £22.50.