By Peter Arnott
A new play, commissioned by Mull Theatre
Oman, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mull, Cyprus…
"Colonel" Brian Traquair is a man with a secretive past and an ambiguous present. The Queen once gave him a medal in the kitchen at Buckingham Palace. He's supposed to be retired, but he still gets summoned to Whitehall every so often to share his hard-won expertise. His troubled daughter Alison waits for him in his remote, island home.
But Traquair comes back with company, a figure from both their pasts. A ghost from those sunny days on Cyprus. Michael Griffen, now a security consultant, perhaps no longer in the service of the Crown, brings back the darkness of the outside world, and secrets from their own tangled lives. Foreign and domestic wars, old and new, walk through the door with him. Terrorism and intrigue, corruption and covert action, have come home.
Mull Little Theatre
Writer/Director - Peter Arnott
Designer - by Robin Peoples
Scenic Artist – Alan Melvin
Music and Sound Design – Martin Low
Production Manager – Maria Bechaalani
D.S.M. – Kenna Grant
A.S.M. – Kay McIntyre
Wardrobe – Andrea McPhail
Production photographs – Douglas Robertson
Poster Image and Design - Emma Quinn
Sandy Neilson as Traquair
Beth Marshall as Alison
Stephen Clyde as Griffen
Trafalgar Studios, London
Stage manager – Kenna Grant
Sandy Neilson as Traquair
Beth Marshall as Alison
Alasdair McCrone as Griffen
July 26 2005
Mull Little Theatre, Dervaig
ROBERT DAWSON SCOTT ****
Sailing across the Firth of Lorne on a summer’s evening, on my way to Mull Theatre, radio reports of a man being shot by security forces on a London Tube train seemed to be coming from a lot more than 500 miles away. And yet on arrival, I find a play which ends with those same security forces taking out a rogue intelligence office on the island. Peter Arnott’s clever new thriller is nothing if not contemporary.
Written before the London bombings, it now incorporates news footage of those terrible events in the closing moments, ramming home the point that Arnott had wanted to make, that all those covert, dirty little operations over the past 50 years, from Afghanistan to Jordan, culminating in the Intelligence farce around the Iraq war, all connect up. Between them they rob our state and thereby ourselves of credibility, authority, probity, decency. In return, we get bombs on the buses and, as he puts it, “arrests timed to suit the news cycle”.
Arnott has channelled his anger into a play that looks and sounds a bit like Sleuth, rewritten by John Le Carre and with an extra cast member to redouble the layers of deception.
Brian Traquair, retired Intelligence chief, brings one of his former agents, Mike Griffen, back to his retirement home on Mull to recuperate. Brian’s daughter Alison is not amused; she and Griffen have history that even her father doesn’t know about. As the three twist around each other’s hidden agendas, each with their own history and knowledge, Arnott inserts his own agenda, exposing some of the seamier episodes in British covert history and inventing others which sound all too plausible.
Arnott’s first outing as director as well as writer sees such naturalistic writing and playing, it might be on television — not inappropriate given that Mull Theatre’s stage is probably slightly smaller than a domestic TV. But with actors such as Sandy Neilson, every director in Scotland’s first call for world-weary mandarins, ministers and spooks, not to mention the clucking of the real chickens outside, it is all surprisingly convincing.
Perhaps Arnott shoehorns in one conspiracy too many for comfort and one twist too many for credibility. But even without recent events it would be a telling, as well as a highly watchable, piece of drama. With them, it borders on the chilling.
REVIEWS FROM LONDON
“Coasting in on the new wave of plays about the shady world of contemporary politics and politicking comes Peter Arnott’s fascinating play, which questions the morality of Britain’s spies and the spooky underworld of intelligence agents…
“Arnott…tightens the dramatic noose thrillingly as the tables turn to devastating effect…”
Nicholas de Jongh, Evening Standard
“Neilson….is perfect as the weary sceptic. Pity we didn’t have more like him to resist the likes of Campbell and Scarlett when they were waltzing us to war…worth a discreet recce…”
Quentin Letts, Daily Mail
“…a taut, intelligent three-hander … the vectors of who means what to whom are played out with le Carré-like understatement…”
Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times
“…an old-fashioned psychological thriller in which the characters drink too much, talk too much and let the skeletons in their cupboards come tumbling out…”
Lyn Gardener, The Guardian
“...Arnott knows how to keep things rattling along at a good clip… of all the plays I saw last week it's the only one I'd recommend.”
Toby Young, The Spectator
“..a fiercely impressive drama…its tense claustrophobia suits the intimacy of the space well”
Claire Allfree, Metro
“Arnott is a consistently entertaining playwright but his best moments come when dealing with the absurdities and unpleasant betrayals of modern politics – and this is perhaps his sharpest piece yet. Laugh outloud funny but also genuinely tense, this is a thriller par excellence.”
“…well acted and totally gripping – as exciting (and improbable) as an episode of ‘Spooks’””
Robert Shore, Time Out
“The combination of claustrophobic, domestic powerplay and speculative spy thriller gives a particular sense of what a James Bond movie might be like if it was written by Harold Pinter.”
Mark Brown, Sunday Herald