‘One man for whom Graham committed himself totally’ In Review: A Splinter of Ice at York Theatre Royal

Two men in a living room in Moscow. No physical movement, no action; meanwhile their conversation could not be more dynamic/lively. They eventually stand up to refill their glasses with vodka (indeed) to then sit back on the couch continuing their progressive talk about university years, ex-wives, social life and controversial political decisions in the past. Ben Brown’s A Splinter of Ice depicts a reunion between two old friends who both worked as spies and tells the audience about the infusion of friendship and politics.

Close to the end of the cold war in 1987, writer Graham Greene attended a conference in the Soviet Capital. As a result of mixing pleasure and business, he ended up visiting his old friend Kim Philby. They had become allies in the 1940s during their years as MI6 agents. Greene worked under Philby but after it turned out that Philby worked for both the US and Soviet intelligence, he fled to Moscow, leaving everything behind him in hope of a new life.

The play, based on real-life events, re-imagines the conversation between Graham Greene and Kim Philby, reunited after decades. Of course, the details of their actual discussion are unknown but after thorough research, writer Ben Brown ‘filled up the gaps’ to create this politically infused drama.

Brown took inspiration from the memoir of Yvonne Cloetta (Graham Greene’s long-term partner) who referred to Kim Philby as ‘one man whom Graham committed himself totally.’

The play begins with Rufa, Kilby’s new wife welcoming Greene in their flat. The Russian companion eventually disappears in the kitchen, leaving the old friends on their own, surrounded by a strange atmosphere filled with questions.

The two old mates have a lot of catching up to do- with the help of both brown and white spirits: wives number one & two, social life, red wine, MI6, wives number three & four, politics…

As their conversation unfolds the real reasons behind their past decisions becomes clearer and the audience learns more about personal battles and self-doubts.

At the end of the play, Greene leaves the flat with newly gained information on Kim’s loyalty, including the poor state of Kilby’s health.

They will never see each other again.

Picture credit: York Theatre Royal

Graham Greene is played by Oliver Ford Davies, well known for his roles in theatre and television. The audience can remember him for theatre roles as King Lear and Hamlet, but Davies appearances in Star Wars 1,2 &3 or Game of Thrones make his face even more recognizable.

The former double agent Kim Philby is portrayed by Stephen Boxer. His theatre career is similarly diverse to Davies’ however his performance as Denis Thatcher in the Netflix show The Crown earned him both public recognition and an award.

Kim Philby’s Russian-Polish wife, Rufina Pukhova is played by Karen Ascoe. Her career includes several theatre, film and television roles.

Apart from the outstanding stage performance of the actors, the exemplary set design is something worth mentioning.

The award-winning Michael Pavelka was responsible for the set and costume design of A Splinter of Ice. He imagined a unique environment that is comforting and innovative at the same time.

The stage was covered with a metal structure that depicted the walls meanwhile the interior had an authentic ‘retro romantic’ aura provoked by the typical furniture setting of Soviet homes.

Ben Brown’s A Splinter of Ice by Original Theatre will be on stage in Edinburgh, 13-17 July. Tickets are available here.

And in Cambridge, 19-24 July. Tickets can be purchased here.

As a ‘positive result’ of the Covid 19 pandemic, the play was recorded in Cheltenham Everyman cinema. To buy tickets, click here.