‘Cracking’ Splinter of Ice at Malvern provides a warm glow after a winter bereft of live theatre

TO BE BACK reviewing live theatre in itself was a treat – the fact that we could have a drink in the bar and enjoy the pre-show buzz, a second treat. The big whopping cherry on the top was that this tour premier production of ‘A Splinter of Ice’ is a cracker!

The combination of writer Ben Brown and director Alan Strachan is a meeting of minds and the combination of Oliver Ford Davies and Stephen Boxer is a masterclass not only in acting, but also in audience engagement. Davies plays the legendary bipolar novelist and MI6 agent Graham Greene, Boxer plays his ex-MI6 boss and arguably our most notorious double agent, Kim Philby.

The action takes place in Philby’s Moscow apartment one night in 1987 when Greene has dinner with his old friend whom he has not seen for 33 years.

The set by Michael Pavelka cleverly uses a metal framework to define and divide spaces – from the elevator to the apartment, to the intimacy of a well-worn parlor.  The final touch of the Kremlin appearing as if it had been watching their conversations along with us was a touch of imaginative genius.

As the third member of the company, Karen Ascoe puts in a very believable performance as Philby’s wife Rufa where she oozes protection for the man she loves and confides that he has not long to live.

There is a chess set on a table down stage, which fittingly symbolises the verbal chess game played between the two old chums.

We learn much about both players – and yet we learn little. That is the cleverness of script, direction and performance. What motivates someone to give allegiance to a foreign power, which believes in the repression of everything they believe in?

Four-times married Philby isn’t exactly living the dream that he envisaged would be his Russian reward, but he still clings onto the belief he is playing a game more than living a life. With the thrill of the chase – always being more exciting to him than the prize – he cannot admit that a life controlled by political minders makes him more of puppet than player.

Our sometime narrator Greene equally has never stopped searching and playing games, even he tells us, the deadly one of Russian roulette.

Villains to some, heroes to others, but certainly both these real life quirks of history are played as boys that never really grew up.

The show has had the benefit of an online performance, which received excellent reviews. Now on the stage where it belongs, the live tour must surely end in the West End.

The cast applauded us – their socially-distanced full house audience – as we applauded them. A bonding and a walkdown moment which announces at long last – ‘Theatre is Back!

The Original Theatre Company’s A Spliter of Ice runs until Saturday, June 12. Click here for more information and to book tickets.

Review by Euan Rose.

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