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A Splinter Of Ice
June 8th - June 12th
The Original Theatre Company presents
A SPLINTER OF ICE
by Ben Brown
Directed by Alan Strachan with Alastair Whatley
Starring Oliver Ford Davies and Stephen Boxer
“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” E.M. Forster
Moscow 1987, as the cold war begins to thaw and Britain’s greatest living novelist Graham Greene meets with his old MI6 boss, Kim Philby, Britain’s greatest spy… and traitor.
Under the watchful eye of Rufa, Russian memoir writer and Kim’s last wife, the two men set about catching up on old times. With a new world order breaking around them how much did the writer of The Third Man know about Philby’s secret life as a spy? Did the Red Spy Philby betray his friend as well as his country?
…and who is listening-in in the next-door room?
From the writer and director of the award-winning West End hit play Three Days in May which inspired the Oscar Winning film Darkest Hour. Ben Brown’s coruscating new political drama explores an unlikely friendship. Yet a friendship woven of deceit as well as loyalty.
“One feels for a moment the sharp touch of the icicle in the heart.”
Starring Oliver Ford Davies (Game of Thrones, Star Wars) as Graham Greene, Stephen Boxer (The Crown) as Kim Philby. From the award-winning producers of hit online productions of Birdsong and Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon and stage productions including the five-star revival of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art.
“Expertly calibrated performances… Absorbing” ★★★★ The Times
“Reassuringly intimate atmosphere of an old-school TV drama” ★★★★ The Times
“Faultless performances” ★★★★ The Reviews Hub
“A Splinter Of Ice is a triumph” ★★★★ Daily Mail
“A spellbinding affair… enthralling” ★★★★ Reviews Gate
“A dream cast” British Theatre
“A fantastic watch” G-Scene
Running time: approx. 1 hour 50 minutes, including 20-minute interval
Production photos by James Findlay
Performances taking place before June 21st will be sold at half capacity in line with Government guidelines. Thereafter, performances may initially be sold at half capacity in case restrictions remain, although capacities may increase if not. Prevailing Government guidance on face coverings and distancing will be observed and enhanced cleaning routines will remain in place.
Please read our Covid-19 Safety Guidelines prior to booking.
Choice Radio Worcester
Not everyone would think that spending a warm early summer's evening inside a building wearing a face mask for a couple hours is the perfect night out but for theatre-goers at least, it was the moment that things, finally, started to return to normal.
For this was the first night of Malvern Theatre's new season of shows, some of which have been cancelled and re-scheduled a number of times. Kicking off the season is a show set in 1987 when the Cold War was beginning to thaw. A story of two famous Brits, A Splinter Of Ice, like next week's Tell Me On A Sunday, has chosen Malvern to begin its UK tour. The show is a fairly straightforward two-hander for the most part with Oliver Ford Davies playing the author Graham Greene and Stephen Boxer as his friend and supporter of many years (and former boss) Kim Philby. There is also an appearance at various points, one of them crucial to the story, of Karen Ascoe as Rufa, the fourth and last of Philby's wives). Whilst the meeting with the two "sharing a bottle of wine" did actually take place, Greene never divulged the discussions that took place but Brown's imagining of the conversation contains a number of verifiable facts and is also based around Rufa's own recollections, and is all the more believable for doing so. Greene's book The Third Man also plays a role in the story - is that man Philby?
With Philby having been an agent for the KGB for many years and, apparently, now living a quite comfortable life in Russia, the arrival of his old friend - and supporter - Greene comes as a surprise, particularly as he is his first visitor from England. Greene was there to speak at a conference so is there more to this visit than just happenstance?
Both actors are totally believable in their respective roles and even though it is basically just a conversation between them - and a lot of drinking - the audience hangs on every word as the story unfolds. The scene where Rufa confides in Greene whilst Philby is "doing the washing up" is also very telling.
After being disrupted by lockdown, it is clear that the actors, crew and the creative team at Original Theatre Company are relieved to being finally presenting the show to a live audience (albeit at this point still masked) and the audience was equally approving of being able to be present - in good numbers but socially-distanced - at the start of the run
This was a very enjoyable evening telling the story of those involved in spying which is in our very recent past.
Now if only that vodka, whisky and wine had been offered to the audience as well...!
If you could have dinner with one of the world's great personalities (alive or dead) who would you choose? Who would answer questions which may have been bothering you for years?
Maybe Michelangelo telling you the true cost of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or Proust, dishing the dirt on upper-class Parisian society, or maybe the Earl of Oxford--reputedly one of Elizabeth the First's illegitimate children. Dinner with him could well unlock one of thegreatest literary mysteries of all time, since you would at be able to ask the question which has bugged scholars for centuries, namely who exactly wrote the Shakespearean plays, was it really the glove maker's son from Stratford, or the person sitting opposite in the rather fine silk doublet?
Ben Brown has shaped his play around a meeting in Russia between the arch spy Kim Philby (Stephen Boxer )and his friend of many years, the novelist Grahame Greene (beautifully-shaped, calm performance by Oliver Ford Davies). Philby has possibly only a year left of his life. His Russian doctor has diagnosed a heart condition which will eventually prove fatal. Greene is told of it before dinner, by Philby's Russian wife Rufa (played with bird-like intensity by Karen Ascoe).
In a curious way Greene's desire for information from his old mate Philby seems to grow more intense as the casual old boy badinage progresses. In Brown's capable hands the morality of Philby's treachery is never overplayed. When the word "traitor" emerges, you hold your breath for a moment, Philby, however, is locked away from disgrace in Russia and has his answer ready: "You can't betray something you never believed in in the first place", he says, and Greene's expression does not change one way or another. In a sense they were brothers in perseverance, Philby served two masters until his treachery was discovered, while Greene used espionage in fictional form as he pressed on with his novels.
This is a static evening. Under Alan Strachan's direction, the actors sit opposite each other in order to develop their story. There is not much else they can do, although the quality of the dialogue guarantees our attention and 90 minutes or so passes quickly, with Philby moving to and from the drinks cabinet at regular intervals.
When Alan Bates and Coral Brown were in the same situation in "An Englishman Abroad" ( traitorous English spy exiled in Russia visited by an English actress) there was greater theatricality and sense of drama than you get here. I still remember the incongruity of the music on the old wind-up record player, namely "Who stole my heart away.." Ben Brown's piece has less theatrical colour, (the play is set in a bleak Moscow flat) and drifts occasionally into mundanity. But it still makes its point successfully, although everyone must speak up, since vocal projection is frequently blurred. This is not television but live theatre.