Theatre: A good week for plays that deserved a revival

Cell Mates at Hampstead Theatre

Simon Gray’s spy thriller Cell Mates, which closed early in 1995 when Stephen Fry had a breakdown and suddenly exited the production, is successfully revived by Ed Hall at Hampstead Theatre.

Traitor George Blake, sentenced to imprisonment for 42 years, was sprung from Wormwood Scrubs in 1961 by Sean Bourke, an Irish petty criminal. Invited to join Blake in Moscow, Bourke found he was not allowed to return home to Ireland. But it was not the KGB who was keeping him; it was Blake who didn’t want him to go home. Spies betray people. They can’t break the habit.

Blake comes across in Geoffrey Streatfeild’s performance as a much weaker character than the cruel double agent he was in real life. Emmet Byrne’s Bourke is a much more affectionate, sympathetic and likeable person. Blake is still alive, aged 95, and living in Moscow.

Bernard Shaw’s plays are often criticised for being all talk and no action. But who cares when the talk is so brilliant and such fun. Misalliance, directed by Paul Miller and excellently acted at Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, is a witty, freewheeling debate about the impossible gulf between parents and children, the parents emerging just as foolish as their offspring, though much nicer. A Polish acrobat drops in – literally, her aeroplane having crashed into the conservatory. She drives all the men crazy. A young clerk also turns up, waving a revolver, wanting to avenge his mother’s shame and vent his socialism. Strongly recommended.

It is ridiculous that the only play of JM Barrie that is regularly revived is Peter Pan. Dear Brutus, which many think his masterpiece, is about a group of people being given a second chance, and Barrie observes the pain, comedy and farce that self-knowledge can bring. Strange things are liable to happen on Midsummer Night. Her ladyship finds herself having an impassioned affair with the butler. A philandering egoist is not sure whether it is his wife he loves or his mistress. All three end up behaving like the juvenile lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Barrie always enjoyed mixing the real and the fantasy world. The most poignant scene comes when an alcoholic artist, unhappily married and childless, has a vision of the daughter he never had. Jonathan O’Boyle’s production at Southwark Playhouse is sensitively acted.

Conan Doyle, you will remember, got fed up writing about Sherlock Holmes and killed him off. He would have remained at the bottom of the Reichenbach Falls had it not been for American actor-playwright William Gillette deciding he wanted to act the most famous detective in the world on stage. There have been well over 300 adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories in the theatre, cinema, television and radio. There has been a musical and even a ballet. Sherlock Holmes on ice is eagerly awaited.

Meanwhile at Jermyn Street Theatre there is a hilarious spoof of The Hound of the Baskervilles by Steven Canny and John Nicholson. It is for three versatile comic actors who, directed by Lotte Wakeham, play 14 characters and do all the costume changes and all the silly business at incredible speed. The comic timing of Shaun Chambers, Max Hutchinson and Simon Kane, verbally, physically and facially, is spot on.