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Cyprus

Peter Arnott
Trafalgar Studios 2
(2005)

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The opening of Cyprus had the makings of a doubly special occasion. This play is christening the 100-seat, smaller studio at what used to be the Whitehall Theatre. In addition, it is the first time in living memory that the 43-seat Mull Theatre has managed a West End transfer.

Unfortunately, the play does not live up to the wonderful hype. The space, laid out as a thrust, is both comfortable and intimate and Robin Peoples' set, a welcoming study on the Isle of Mull, draws its audience in so that members almost feel like house guests.

The plot deals with a semi-retired MI6 officer, Sandy Neilson as Traquair, his troubled and worried daughter (Beth Marshall's Alison) and their mysterious house guest Griffen, another spy or assassin played by the theatre's artistic director Alasdair McCrone.

Griffen initially swaggers around spouting clichés and swearing as if to make a point but this wears off soon enough. He manages to irritate Alison, who justifiably takes an immediate dislike to him. Her father, who used to work with the odious man, is more sympathetic and tries to mollify her, possibly because he has his own reasons for humouring his guest.

However, as soon as the older man's back is turned the other pair begin to relive an affair that commenced when Alison was little more than a child.

For two-and-a-quarter hours, the two men exchange verbal blows and for far too long it is not clear which is the good guy and which the bad. Indeed, even at the very end this has not been definitively established. It is therefore difficult to sympathise with either for any length of time, so that one eventually reaches the point of ceasing to care too much about the fate of either.

The storyline is bang up-to-date with comments on many contemporary spy stories such as that of Dr David Kelly, events in Iraq and, at the close, rather gratuitously in London on that ominous Thursday in July that has become known as 7/7.

The plotting becomes increasingly complicated to the extent that eventually the average viewer - however hard he or she may concentrate - must surely have got lost the thread long before the final explanations are delivered and the quintuple crossing has ended.

Peter Arnott shows all of the appropriate left-wing credentials to please the average London theatre-goer. Somewhere his intentions disappear as he gets far too clever for his own good. He is not helped by combining writing with directing, which means that no external viewer has had the opportunity to suggest much-needed cuts and simplifications.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher