Doubling up

CIPHERS

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 20th November, 2013

Dawn King’s play is a taut little thriller, and like the playwright’s name suggests, the plot dawns on us as the action unfolds.  We move back and forth in time, witnessing events out of sequence – like the spies on stage, we look for patterns and meaning in what we see and hear.

It is the story of two sisters.  One joins the secret service and winds up dead.  The other strives to uncover the truth about her sister’s death.  The spy sister has an affair with a married man, an artist, and this poses a security threat, and this brings about her downfall…

The cast of four double up on roles.  As well as being economical, this is a device that mirrors the double lives the characters lead.  Grianne Keenan is strong as the sisters, cold and dispassionate as one, driven and emotional as the other.  Shereen Martin portrays two more strong women – there is a theme here: women being strong and more than efficient in what is traditionally perceived as a man’s world, international espionage.  Ronny Jhutti is a terror suspect turned informer along with the philandering artist.  In contrast to the women, the men are more unstable, volatile even.  Finally, there is Bruce Alexander as Russian boss and the girls’ father, giving a very touching scene as a bereaved parent trying to make sense of his loss.

James Perkins’s set is all screens that slide across stage to effect the transitions.  They are for projecting handy translations of some of the dialogue for those of us whose Russian doesn’t go much further than ‘vodka’.  The set is all clean lines and angles.  It could be the artist’s exhibition, if the artist is ripping off Malevich’s white, black and red squares.  Gary Bowman’s lighting design adds a touch of colour and mood.  There is no moment when what’s on stage is not elegant and stylish.

Director Blanche McIntyre keeps things sharp.  The script treats the audience with intelligence (pun intended) and what we get is an absorbing and intriguing mystery.  We may feel detached from the characters somewhat – the set aids and abets us in this distancing – but the unravelling of the plot and the cold intensity of the performances are enough to keep us hooked.

The play shows us that you don’t have to be a spy to live a double life – anyone who has had an affair knows this.  But in a more general sense, it is a stark reminder that we can very rarely (if at all) know who someone else really is.  Everyone leads a double life.

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About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic http://williamstaffordnovelist.wordpress.com/ http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B008AD0YGO View all posts by williamstafford

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