A Morning with Guy Burgess

John Morrison
Black Pig Theatre
The Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton
(2011)

A Morning with Guy Burgess publicity image

Guy Burgess sits alone in his Russian flat surrounded by bottles of drink and books filled with personal inscriptions. A sofa, table and bureau form an outline creating his four walls and it is from this almost squalid space that tales of espionage, war-time bravery and the cold war unfold.

Focusing on the life of Burgess (Gareth Pilkington) from his recruitment as a soviet spy at Cambridge to his highly publicised flight from Britain, the play asks questions about loyalty, politics and practicalities as Burgess finds himself a British Communist in a Russian Communist state. Almost begging to be allowed back to Britain he states at one point, "Twelve years is too long in paradise".

The programme notes are extensive and this is genuinely helpful for anyone without prior knowledge of Burgess and the famous Cambridge spy ring. There is a huge amount of exposition however, that reassures the audience of time and circumstance, almost too much, as the final dramatic scenes feel slightly rushed.

Pilkington is confident in the role of Burgess and certainly captures the familiar bluster of many privately educated Englishmen. He lacks, however, the steel to make us believe all the evidence we are presented with. Pilkington is quite likeable in fact and I wonder whether the playwright intended us to pity or despise the character of this trapped intellectual.

There are great moments in this production, particularly with strong characterisation from the supporting cast. Margarita Nazarenko delivers Julia's life story with great passion and Jacob Trenerry brings some welcomed humour through his portrayal of Anthony Blunt. However the pace is uneven and whilst the contexts of the scenes are carefully drawn, there are parts of the script which would far better suit a radio drama. The constant trooping on and off to begin and end memories becomes repetitive, especially given the overall length of the play.

There is great potential here and the subject matter is perfect for the stage but the production currently lacks the energy and sophistication to take it from an 'interesting' evening to a 'fascinating' one.

Running until 30th January

Reviewer: Amy Yorston