A Splinter of Ice, Swan Theatre, Yeovil

THE “old boys network” is a constant feature of British life, and no matter how many times we are told the class structure of society is a thing of the past, those old boys still reign supreme in (especially) politics, business and the law. It’s all about supporting the people with the same, often educational, background as yourself, and it’s why what would otherwise be inexplicable relationships begin and thrive.

Thus it was for world famous writer Graham Greene and Cambridge spy “Lucky” Kim Philby, a Communist womaniser and drunk whose work for the Communist party led to the failure of countless British espionage plans and the death of a number of British spies.

There is still a fascination with the Cold War and the spy rings which have spawned novels, films and plays, and one of the most recent is Ben Brown’s A Splinter of Ice. The title comes from Green’s 1971 autobiographical A Sort of Life, in which he explained that “there is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer.”

At Yeovil’s Swan Theatre, actor and director Robert Graydon played Guy Burgess at his meeting in Moscow with actress Coral Browne in Single Spies back in 2011, and jumped at the opportunity to direct A Splinter of Ice, the story of a similar meeting between Graham Green and Kim Philby. It’s an intense evening of words as the two old friends meet in Philby’s Moscow flat after a separation of 35 years. Glasnost and perestroika were the buzz-words and Green, aged 83 and on a visit to a peace conference in Russia, had another reason to make the trip – bearing a white flag from MI6 and offering Philby a chance to return “home” to England.

Set over a few hours, fuelled with improbable amounts of vodka, wine and single malt, the two old men play cat and mouse with questions and answers, eliciting what is now known as “my truth”. All the while Philby’s fourth wife, the Russian Communist Rufa, and his minder, wait in the wings to see what it is that Green REALLY wants.

The play requires exceptional actors, and great concentration from the audience, and that’s just what it gets in the intimate setting of the Swan Theatre. Award-winning newcomer Robert Brydges is the charismatic, passionate (and terminally ill) Philby, with company veteran Patrick Knox – a man who can move an audience with a slight lift of an eyebrow – as the equally enigmatic Graham Green. In a couple of telling scenes, Tanya Ogden is a devoted Rufa.

The production is yet another example of the remarkable depth of talent in this area of Somerset and Dorset, and of the passion of audiences to take in a wide range of plays as they explore live performance with their favourite actors and directors. All in the same week that, at Westlands, members of YAOS are mounting a spectacular production of Oklahoma!. Let’s hope that the powers that be find the funds to continue with the refurbishment of The Octagon, and that the Swan company (and Civic Player, who also use the venue) continue with their adventurous and exciting shows.


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