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Posts Tagged ‘Sean Bourke’

This 1995 Simon Gray play is more famous for one of its stars, Stephen Fry, going AWOL a few days after it opened, bringing about it’s early closure after just over a month. It’s gestation was problematic too – rejected as a TV script, a failed attempt to turn it into a film script, abandoned by its first theatre producer and getting its first outing on the radio. It even changed title several times, ending up as Cell Mates, but they weren’t. I think this might be it’s only London stage revival. It would have been nice to have added ‘long overdue’.

It concerns the real life case, in 1966, of infamous spy and traitor George Blake and his break-out from Wormwood Scrubs and escape to Russia. Blake was assisted by a young Irishman, Sean Bourke, who he met inside, and the play starts at their first meeting in the prison library, where Blake invites him to help (in reality this didn’t happen at their first meeting). We then see them holed up in a bedsit awaiting departure to Russia after Bourke, newly released, has sprung him. Bourke is persuaded to accompany Blake to Moscow and the rest of the play sees them in a KGB flat there, in four scenes over some ten months, during which time they separately record their memoirs, receive regular visits from their handlers and are cared for by a maid who takes a shine to Bourke.

Gray skirts around the issue of the nature of the relationship between the two, and in particular why Bourke is so loyal to Blake, who betrays him as he did his country. As this is fundamental to the story, it derails the play and it ends up a rather dull telling of a fascinating true story; even speculation would be better than nothing. This is compounded by Edward Hall’s tentative, rather conservative production which rarely comes to life, despite some fine performances. Not really worthy of revival, I’m afraid.

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