But that’s just what Daniel Jamieson has done. One hates to sound cynical, but does the fact that Spies is an A-level set book have any relevance? Not that it’s not a good adaptation, for it has been skilfully done, but six actors populating an entire village during the Second World War makes for a great deal of scurrying and scene-shifting. Which can become repetitive.
Two young boys from very different backgrounds are friends, after their own fashion. They’re at that age where childhood innocence can be blurred by grown-up behaviour. Wartime constraints are present, but not really understood. In one way the enemy in the sky and across the Channel is merely a variation on cowboys-and-Indians, cops-and-robbers.
Benjamin Warren as Stephen accomplishes the difficult task of making an audience believe that an adult actor is a child. As does John-Paul Macleod, whose character Keith, is not so immediately sympathetic – until we begin to understand that his privileged home background has secrets far darker and even more dangerous than enemies outside.
The novel’s framing device of the elderly Stephen revisiting his past (in more ways than one) is covered onstage by Derek Food (Stefan) shadowing Stephen and Keith as they keep watch on their families and neighbours and try so disastrously to make things happen the way they think they should. It’s a subtle as well as an energetic performance.
From Jordan Whyte comes an exceptionally good portrayal of Mrs Hayward, Keith’s mother and perhaps the only real victim in everyone else’s games of make-believe. And Cerianne Roberts makes us squirm at the inquisitive Barbara as well as empathise with the two adult characters she also plays.
There’s a chilling characterisation of Mr Hayward and a moving one of Uncle Peter by Christian Flint. The endlessly shifting set is the creation of James Cotterill and the direction by Nikki Sved. It’s a busy production, as I said, against which the actors have to strain more than they should. But the acting makes it all worthwhile.
– Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich)