Writer: David Thame
Director: Peter Darney
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Kompromat is one of the early successes of this year’s VAULT festival, its run extended into the second week. Featuring some fine acting and a very smart script, this show about murder is certain to transfer.
The title is never explained in its taut 60-minute running time, but ‘Kompromat’ is a Russian word meaning ‘compromising material’. It suggests a world of dirty dealings and espionage and fits perfectly into this play based on the murder of GCHQ agent Gareth Williams, who was found folded into a sports bag placed in the bath of his Pimlico flat. His murderer has never been found and conspiracy theories abound. Some believe he was murdered by Russians spies, while others think his death was the result of a sex game gone wrong.
Williams’ murder also inspired the BBC2 drama London Spy, which was shown in 2015 with Ben Whishaw as one of the leads. While the series started well, it soon wandered off into fantastical territory. Kompromat is much more successful, with David Thame’s sharp and forensic writing shining here. His version of this unsolved crime begins with Zac, a high-class escort, rubber-gloved and cleaning up the crime scene, with Tom, a cryptographer from GCHQ, slumped upon the sofa.
In a series of flashbacks, we see the two meet in a bar in town. Zac, seductively played by Max Rinehart, is more experienced and confident than Tom, who despite his intelligence, is shy and awkward. Guy Warren-Thomas gives a sensitive performance as Tom, nervous and paranoid. However, in his eagerness to connect with someone he is also drawn to his own obliteration, and Warren-Thomas reveals this death-drive in subtle ways.
This idea of self-annihilation was explored last year in the comedy Consumables, which played at the Vault, and Sex/Crime by Alexis Gregory, another black comedy. In contrast, there are few laughs in Kompromat, and the two actors work well to maintain the sinister atmosphere, helped by the foreboding sound design. These two very different men may, in fact, share the same future, and this is suggested by Thame’s very clever writing, which, hinting at quantum possibilities, links the two men irrevocably.
Some shows at The Vault Festival are rough around the edges or are works-in-progress, but Kompromat is ready to go, a sign of Peter Darney’s sure direction. He also wrote and directed the successful 5 Guys Chillin’, and now, with Kompromat, he has another hit on his hands.
Runs until 3 February 2019 | Image: Mark Senior