Spy Plays – Above The Stag

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer: David Thame

Director: Peter Darney

A double header of intriguing, intelligent and provocative plays – each just an hour long but each capable of producing reverberations in the mind that last for days.

Written by David Thame, the two pieces tackle the spy game and the dangers of a life in the shadows from different angles, both stories being fictionalised takes that are closely inspired by real events. Crucially, each play tells a sharp story about an LGBTQ+ reality – mirroring the themes of a secretive life raised by the spycraft side.

In London/Budapest, making its debut here, we see the final hours of Adam de Hegedus, a Hungarian writer suspected of spying while he lived in Britain in the 1940s and 50s. After a young RAF officer catches his eye at the Jermyn St. baths he makes the mistake of bringing the stranger home – resulting in an excellent exploration of espionage, lust and the forces that shape our lives beyond our own control.

Kompromat recalls the violent, unsolved case of GCHQ analyst Gareth Williams whose body was found locked in a bag inside a bath in his Pimlico flat in 2010. First shown last year at The VAULT Festival in Waterloo, this one does have some uncomfortable moments as we recall the real events that it’s based on. However, detailing the route to this end place for both the assassin Zac, and the victim (called Tom here), reveals an examination of character, and the corrupting impact of loneliness that is heart-breaking.

Three actors share the stage through both plays. As Adam, Guy Warren Thomas presents us with a defiant, beautifully calm and witty character in the face of inevitable death. In contrast, as the faltering, unsure cryptographer Tom, he’s vulnerable, only coming alive to his own possibilities when dressed “even more slutty” in a navy dress and heels. It’s a superb display of versatility, and he holds us charmed at each turn. Max Rinehart plays the murderer in both – each man pressured into the job and clearly conflicted. Additional support in London/Budapest comes from Séan Browne as sundry other figures in the text.

Both plays are packed densely with tough ideas about identity and the balance between achieving happiness and a need for self-preservation in a society where you face ostracisation for who you are. Viewing these private moments, and historical events brings home how much and how little has changed for those in the LGBTQ+ world. Under Peter Darney’s steady, emotive direction these stories leap to life with a confident stride rather than an excitable leap – resulting in perfect measure and impact from Thame’s top quality writing.

Runs until 29 March 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Dense, provocative and witty

User Rating: 4.78 ( 3 votes)

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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