by Alan Bennett.
Watermill Theatre Bagnor Newbury RG20 8AE To 6 November 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu and Sat 2.30pm except 6 November at 1.30pm and 6.30pm.
Audio Described 16 Oct 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour12.30pm)
Talkback15, 29 Oct.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01635 46044.
Review Mark Courtice 4 October.
Like their fellows in a spy ring that delivered a host of secrets to the Russians in the 1950s, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt were idealists and homosexual at a time when both those things were highly suspect.
Nowadays our interest in these people is less their crimes than their transgressive, outsider attitudes, held despite their position at the heart of the establishment – Burgess in the Foreign Office and Blunt as Keeper of the Queen’s Pictures.
In An Englishman Abroad actress Coral Browne is invited to Burgess’s drab Moscow flat for tea – he needs someone to get him clothes from Saville Row. In A Question of Attribution Blunt, at the end of his career and close to public unmasking, faces a desultory interrogation from the security services, and a much more pointed one from his employer as they discuss the fate of a dodgy Titian.
The best is at the start. Melanie Jessup’s Browne has the lively eye of a detached observer and a salty tongue, while James Clyde’s Burgess has roguish, if battered charm as he listens to his one old record and even plays a duet with his Russian boyfriend. It feels like a missed opportunity; Burgess announces the English are not interested in ideas, and we’re left to infer what his ideas are.
In contrast Blunt’s encounter with the Queen (spikily interpreted by the excellent Jessup in a dreadful wig) is all ideas but not much drama. She expects conversation to be "facts not chat" and so we get an academic’s lecture on fakery and attribution.
This is delivered by David Yelland’s Blunt in the careful, modulated tones of the academic, which, as he is centre stage most of the time constrains the pace to this single beat. Against this, Clyde’s equivocal security-operative struggles to inject tension into their game of cat and mouse.
Designer Andrew D Edwards’s Russian flat is suitably drab, and he clearly believes that Buckingham Palace is as dull as its chatelaine with a design that is more practical than exciting, in a production that is more careful than surprising.
An Englishman Abroad:
Burgess: James Clyde.
Coral Browne: Melanie Jessop.
Tolya: Joe Marsh.
Shop Assistant: Simon Wright.
Tailor: David Yelland.
A Question of Attribution:
Chubb: James Clyde.
Philips: Ed Cooper Clarke.
HMQ: Melanie Jessop.
Colin: Joe Marsh.
Restorer: Simon Wright.
Director: Jamie Glover.
Designer: Andrew D Edwards.
Lighting: Richard Howell.