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Review: Spy Plays, Above The Stag - sophisticated gay spy thrillers

Spy plays by David Thame are two pieces based on real events, 55 years apart and linked by themes of espionage and gay liaisons.

Spy Plays programme

The first, London/Budapest, is set in 1955 where successful gay author Adam (Guy Warren Thomas) picks up handsome young airman Reg (Max Rinehart) at a sauna and takes him home.

Adam is erudite and eloquent, quick and observant but perhaps not quick enough - or maybe he doesn't want to see?

Flashbacks reveal more about his background, including a friendship with Guy Burgess who defected to the Soviet Union, which give the authorities enough grounds to be suspicious of his loyalties.

But while Adam may not be as innocent as he claims to be, is Reg being equally honest?

The tension mounts, is the sex functional, a ruse or is there something more, will this liaison end in the usual way?

Kompromat, which was first performed at the Vault Festival last year, has similar tensions although the narrative is reversed starting with final events so the question is how it got to that point.

It is set in 2010 and inspired by the death of GCHQ employee Gareth Williams whose body was found in a sports bag in his Pimlico flat while he was on secondment to MI6 in London. 

Tom (Warren Thomas) is the brainy country bumpkin for whom the freedom and accessibility of London's gay scene have made him joyously wide-eyed, naive or purposefully unobservant?

He is picked up at a club by Zac (Rinehart) who is the main narrator of the piece. While in London/Budapest it is Adam's back story that slowly unfolds in Kompromat it is Zac's.

A rent boy who has hit the big time and got himself a rich and powerful sugar daddy, at times he talks directly to the audience hooking you into his narrative.

While he has been leading a glamourous almost too good to believe life there is also a wistfulness to Rinehart's performance which lend a melancholy, tragic tone to the building tension.

Both men are victims of loneliness and a desire to belong or fit in.

Kompromat feels like the more rounded of the two pieces perhaps because the relationship between Tom and Zac is more emotionally engaged - and engaging - than that between Adam and Reg.

Although, you can't help wondering if both pairings would have ended very differently had they met in different circumstances.

Spy Plays is two sophisticated spy thrillers where it is the human stories which linger. I'm giving them ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ overall.

You can see Spy Plays at Above The Stag until 29 March and it is 2 hours and 15 with an interval.

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