A Splinter of Ice reunites spy Kim Philby and novelist Graham Green on stage at Cambridge Arts Theatre
- Credit: James Findlay
Angela Singer reviews A Splinter of Ice at Cambridge Arts Theatre.
Novelists have a splinter of ice in their hearts – spies have a whole icicle. So mused the author Graham Greene.
We see him in this play in 1987 visiting the unfrocked spy Kim Philby. They had both at one point worked for MI6. They haven’t met for 35 years.
Philby had defected to Moscow in 1963, having previously tipped off two other spies, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess.
They were called 'The Cambridge spies' because all five had all been Cambridge students. Philby, Burgess, John Cairncross and Anthony Blunt were at Trinity. Donald Maclean was at Trinity Hall.
But contrary to popular belief, they were not recruited as students. There wasn’t a Communist Party equivalent of “The milk round” where businesses go headhunting among bright young things.
It was much more subtle than that. Philby saw fascism in Vienna in the early 1930s as it raised its ugly head.
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Communism seemed a simple system of fairness: to each according to his ability, from each according to his need. Also it was only the Communists who were going to fight fascism.
Philby’s first wife, Litzi was a young, Austrian Communist and Jewish. He helped her escape to London. Some years later they divorced but they remained friends.
In natural, amusing and understated performances, Oliver Ford Davies as Graham Greene, Stephen Boxer as Kim Philby and Karen Ascoe as Philby’s fourth and last wife, Rufa, a Russian, take us gently through the spy’s fascinating life.
He worked for MI6 but he also worked as a journalist covering the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent for The Times. Curiously, though a Communist for the rest of his days, he was honoured by Franco.
In December 1937, during the Battle of Teruel, a Republican shell hit the car in which he was travelling with three other journalists. One was killed outright, two others died of their injuries.
Philby was the only survivor, suffering a head wound. Franco awarded him the Red Cross of Military Merit. Philby found that useful in getting access to fascist circles.
Spies are an enigma. Mostly what we learn about them comes from other sources but he is reported to have been bitterly disappointed with life in Moscow after he was obliged to live there.
He still believed in the system but said it was poorly led. He was not able to bring his family with him. He had five children who had lost their mother. Also, it was some years before the Russians gave him anything to do.
In the play, we see Graham Greene invite Philby to return home to Britain – there are things he misses, notably the cricket. He has been forgiven apparently.
But it’s too late. It’s been too long and Philby knows he is dying. He died the following year.
Greene says Philby was lucky in that he didn’t live to see the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
He could keep the illusion that the principles he had devoted his life to and sacrificed so much for could one day become a reality.
A Splinter of Ice can be seen at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, July 24.