Ben Brown’s new production A Splinter of Ice, impresses at York Theatre Royal in July 2021.
Moscow 1987 and the cold war begins to thaw. After declining his offer for more than 30 years, novelist Graham Greene travels into the heart of the Soviet Union to meet with his old MI6 boss and double-agent, Kim Philby. A Splinter of Ice imagines this conversation with Alastair Whatley (Artistic Director) and Alan Strachan (Director) presenting the play in Philby’s Moscow flat.
Throughout the show, I tried to imagine what it’d be like, to meet an old friend after over 30 years without seeing each other. These men live much more intense lives too that I do, with one travelling the world, and writing about spy-work, and the other spending his life living those stories. It is this key difference, their parting of paths following their time as friends, that provides the tense narrative that is expertly performed by Oliver Ford Davies & Stephen Boxer.
A Splinter of Ice feels like a classic espionage film. With stereotypes rarely avoided; scotch flowing, two old men chewing the fat, the BBC World Service and tales from their past centring around their old drinking habits. Whilst their friendship is there to see, Brown quickly turns the relationship into one that was always going to intensify during the production. The only criticism perhaps of this relationship is at the same speed it intensifies, it turns into an interview almost, with Greene exploring future work, rather than desiring a chat with a long-lost friend.
Davies and Boxer are outstanding however. I can genuinely say that I was hooked from minute one, right through to the first interval, despite the pace to that point being fairly slow. The use of music and light in the most subtle of ways also needs commending with Jason Taylor and Max Pappenheim deserving credit there.
There is perhaps some psychological depth that isn’t explored as deep as many would like, but the subtlety leaves much to the imagination, something often missing in dramas such as this. I enjoyed every minute, and have gone away reading and exploring lives of more spies operating in this time period. Expert, empathetic acting, strong narrative, all round, brilliant production.