REVIEW: Single Spies by Alan Bennett at Chichester Festival Theatre

'Nicholas Farrell (Chubb) in 'A Question of Attribution'. Photo: Alastair Muir
'Nicholas Farrell (Chubb) in 'A Question of Attribution'. Photo: Alastair Muir

There’s an old saying that you can’t see the wood for the trees - that you are so involved in the detail you cannot see the whole picture.

Alan Bennett has crafted a writing career from the reverse.

It is from the minutiae of the mundane that he draws out the powerful and the profound in people’s lives.

Single Spies is two one act plays looking at those who sought to betray Britain to the Russians from the 1930s.

They are portrayals of Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt - two of the best-known members of the Cambridge Five, a spy ring recruited at Cambridge University.

But with Bennett’s adept skill, these glimpses ignore the key historic moments focussing instead on two almost inconsequential moments in their lives.

Productions as intimate and in many ways as subtle as these are better presented in the smaller Minerva Studio.

On this occasion, the main festival theatre house seems a little too big and can make the fare seem underwhelming.

The most delicate dishes are often best served on small plates.

Yet these are potent performances from a mighty cast led by David Robb, Nicholas Farrell and Belinda Lang.

Ms Lang’s portrayal of The Queen in the second of the two halves is particularly poignant - revealing with skill the perspicacity of Her Majesty in an otherwise humdrum encounter.

These are not brutal insights into Burgess and Blunt. On the contrary it reveals their vulnerabilities and final exposure and lonely descent.

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