Single Spies
The Watermill
Until November 6

AN INTRIGUING double-bill offers a humorous insight into the lives of two of the Cambridge spies at The Watermill theatre.

Alan Bennett’s Single Spies comprises of An Englishman Abroad and A Question of Attribution, neatly slotted either side of an interval.

The first glimpses an exiled Guy Burgess adapting to life in Moscow, where he spent the last 12 years of his life, and the second portrays Anthony Blunt in his role as art historian and Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures.

After furnishing the audience with some historic background and setting the scene for 1950s Moscow, the actress Coral Browne (Melanie Jessop) encounters Burgess (James Clyde) while on tour with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.

Asked to come to his flat and mysteriously “bring a tape measure”, Browne observes the bored existence of Burgess, who misses London streets, English countryside and, above all, gossip. He yearns for a new suit from his London tailor to set himself apart.

In the spirit of the social etiquette of “civilised people”, the issue of treason is skirted around and blurted out in a fascinating series of scenes.

A Question of Attribution is laden with double entendres, playing the topic of “fake” paintings against the fakery of a spy and the difficulties of flushing a fake out of a certain social background.

An interchange between Blunt (an excellent but perhaps too easily likeable David Yelland) and a young Queen (Jessop) is wonderful to watch.

Jessop, Clyde and Yelland each give solid performances and show their versatility by doubling up parts.

It is a rare treat to see an interpretation of the Queen, and Jessop respectfully imbues her monarch with intelligence and humour.

Andrew D Edwards has designed a wonderful set which is transformed from Moscow apartment to London tailor and Royal household.

Bennett’s works do not delve into the murky waters of what makes someone betray their country or open a debate on capitalism versus communism. But they present a fascinating glimpse into the lives of two unlikely spies, masterfully brought to life by the players.

–Lucie Richards

Tickets for Single Spies are priced from £13.50 to £25 and are available from the box office on 01635 46044 or online at