**** (4 stars)
“Taught and Engaging”
Following the longest period in history of every theatre in Scotland going dark, the curtain has risen once more at Edinburgh’s Kings Theatre with the taught and engaging exploration of what it meant to be a spy in Ben Brown’s masterful, A Splinter of Ice.
Set in Moscow on a freezing winters night in February 1987, the cold war much like the USSR is in it death throws, this true life story catches up with the ailing Kim Philby (played with deft and understated touch by Stephen Boxer) the British double agent who defected behind the iron curtain in 1963. Philby was believed to have been recruited by the KGB in 1934 and was implicated in the “Cambridge Five” affair along with selling secrets during World War 2.
Philby is reunited with his protégé Graham Greene ( a tour de force performance from Oliver Ford Davies), Greene who would go on to be an acclaimed novelist, dramatist and screen writer worked in MI6 during the war bringing him into contact with Philby starting a lifelong friendship.
It’s that friendship that is the crux of the play, the two old friends spend a night over dinner reflecting back on a life in the spy business, and find the inescapable truth that even in later years they are still keeping secrets, they are however more reflective on the true human cost their actions created.
This is a triple hander with the role of Philby’s wife Rufa, being played by Karen Ascoe. Ascoe truly delivers in her limited stage time as a woman clearly driven by love and the realisation that nothing material lasts forever but love endures.
A Splinter of ice is beautifully written by Ben Brown who has clearly done the research that allows the cast to bring these characters to life, with taught, tight direction from Alan Strachan who also peppers the play with moments of wry comedy it makes for a thrilling return to theatre.
Production wise Jason Taylors Lighting design is stark in its simplicity but inventive in making the location of the flat and building clear. This added to Michael Pavelka’s striking set and costume design and Max Pappenheim’s Sound (he is also the composer) ensures this intimate west end treat of play succeeds.
A Splinter of Ice excels in transporting the audience back to a time before the digital age where to be a spy truly was putting your life on the line, and accepting the consequences will shape the rest of your life.
If you like your theatre, engaging, thought provoking and real this is unmissable and after the darkness of closed theatres is a joy to raise the curtain too.
Original Theatre Presents, A Splinter of Ice, Kings Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 17th July, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/a-splinter-of-ice