"Traitor sent away to school"
by Michael Gray for remotegoat on 14/01/11

Guy Burgess, the finest Cambridge undergraduate of his generation, is visited in his squalid Moscow flat by a woman with whom he shares memories of home. No, not Alan Bennett's Englishman Abroad, but a new biographical play by John Morrison, best known perhaps for his spoof School Yarn about one Anthony Blair. The same metaphor surfaces here, Burgess the idler to Maclean's swot, though, from my two-rouble seat in the stalls, the Music Hall imagery was stronger, the irrepressible Guy starring in Confessions of a Cheeky Chappie, belting out Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty.

His mysterious visitor, the bright young Russian schoolteacher bringing him soup and cake, was very much a dramatic device at first - "So what happened next ?", "Which year are we in now ?" though her love of all things English and her text-book idioms did add interest. But at the end of Burgess's tale she insists that he [and we, perforce] should hear her story too. It's a strong coda, the frozen corpses in the river one of the most memorable images in a wordy piece. Margarita Nazarenko's complex Julia was a great foil for Gareth Pilkington's florid, politically naive traitor; we felt for her as her tragic story unfolded, when she became the victim of a final act of treachery.

Excellent work among the supporting characters, too: Rich Keeble's Maclean, Richard Holt's Philby, Charles Church a splendid Driberg, Robin West as Guy's best friend and drinking partner Goronwy Rees, and especially Jacob Trenerry's aristocratic Blunt, swanning in with a Poussin under his arm.

Morrison has done his research - he was with Reuter's Moscow office, and knew Maclean. I hope Burgess really was due to umpire a cricket match just before he died; I hope Tom Driberg really brought him a borrowed bat and marmalade from Sainsbury's; I hope there really were pointless seminars on The English Way of Life for agents Pushkin and Dostoevsky. Their cultural tennis, complete with bowler hats, was a comic highlight; the often witty dialogue deserved more laughs than the sparse Thursday night audience could provide, I felt.

A Morning With Guy Burgess was directed by Dimitry Devdariani, originally from Georgia. The production, with its shadowy KGB agents and its oppressive atmosphere, made the most of a script which did not always convince dramatically - it's a pity that Morrison's "concert party" did not draw a bigger crowd to the Courtyard, just round the corner from the celebrated Hoxton Music Hall.

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