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A CurtainUp London London Review

On my twelfth birthday you got quietly drunk and taught me to look for a bomb under a car.
--- Alison
Sandy Neilson as Brian Traquair and Beth Marshall as Alison
(Photo: Mull Theatre)
This week sees the transfer of Cyprus from a tiny Scottish theatre (38 seats) on the Isle of Mull to a brand new but intimate theatre in the heart of London's West End. At the old Ambassadors Theatre Group Whitehall Theatre with its rear stalls cleverly converted into the 98 seate Trafalgar Studio 2 (complementing the larger studio, Trafalgar Studio 1). Apparently it takes far longer to travel from London to Mull with trains and ferries than it does to New York, so the effort in a transfer so far south is to be admired. Arranged round three sides of a square Trafalgar 2 is a welcome small addition to London's theatreland made possible by a donation from Christina Smith.

The enigmatically named Cyprus, another island with a much warmer climate, is the nearest station for British forces monitoring the situation in what we call the Near East. The play is actually set on the Isle of Mull. Here, a little like John Le Carré's George Smiley, a retired and discontented spy, Brian Traquair (Sandy Neilson), disapprovingly observes the conduct of the British government in Iraq. He is being visited by his grown up daughter, Alison (Beth Marshall). Into the mix comes Mike Griffen (Alasdair McCrone), currently employed by the secret service and one time friend of the family.

What follows is a three handed game of Spy, as we try to second guess the motives of each member of the cast. The play is an intellectual exercise in which we observe the guarded way these people play their cards and place their bets. They discuss time in Cyprus, in Bahrain and recently the war in Iraq. The question is raised whether espionage feed terrorism. There are allusions to the suicide of Dr David Kelly, another malcontent in government service. The play unfolds on the 6th of July 2005, and judging by the newspaper headlines the next day, which herald the British Olympic win -- the parade for which was promptly rained on by the London Tube Bombings of 7/7. is

The all Scottish cast, one of whom, McCrone, is the Artistic Director for Mull Theatre, are all very secure in their parts. Sandy Neilson in particular is enigmatic as the "Colonel" as he talks about the betrayals with his long face and drooping eyelids, he is full of Scottish reserve and Presbyterian self discipline. We are told that Traquair keeps his medal he received secretly from the Queen in a drawer in the kitchen. Griffen on the other hand is more bluster and bravado. Alison may just be a vehicle for the other two.

The set is a simple living room and I was taken with the care paid to stacking the bookshelves with political tomes. I cannot in fairness reveal any more about the plot because Cyprus is a thriller. There is much to like about this unassuming production which is as quiet as the island it has come from.

Written and directed by Peter Arnott

With: Beth Marshall, Alasdair McCrone, Sandy Neilson
Design: Robin Peoples
Music and Sound Designer: Martin Low
Scenic Artist
An Ambassador Theatre Group presentation
A Mull Theatre Production
Running time: Two hours ten minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6632
Booking until 17th December 2005
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd November 2005 performance at the Trafalgar Studios Whitehall London SW1 (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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