Cyprus

Published April 17, 2008

It is not very often that a new theatre opens in the West End, especially not one that holds but 100 paying patrons. With that in mind, there was always going to be much anticipation surrounding the first performance at the new Trafalgar Studio 2. The inaugural production, Cyprus, is presented by Mull Theatre, a group more used to playing to less than 50 audience members. Matthew Amer went to see how they took to a larger venue.

The new Trafalgar Studio 2 is striking. A dark room fitted with three rows of bright red seats, it immediately makes an impression on an audience which is so close to the stage that one member told me last night they almost put their glass of wine on the prop coffee table.

The mistake would be understandable. All the action in Cyprus takes place in the study of Brian Traquair, a former British Government employee whose actual business is shrouded in secrecy, even from his own daughter Alison (Beth Marshall). The wooden bookcase and panelling, coffee table and reading light create the atmosphere of an old English study. One wouldn’t be surprised if whisky was drunk here (which it is), or pipes smoked (which they are not).

While on an ambiguous trip to London, Sandy Neilson’s controlled, ponderous Traquair bumps into an old protégé, the ‘bo***cking, bu**ering’ ex-public-school-boy-turned-soldier Michael Griffen (played by Mull Theatre Artistic Director Alasdair McCrone), who is apparently in need of help and is offered solace and a holiday by his old comrade. The constantly questioning law graduate Alison and Griffen, it turns out, also remember each other from a starry night when she was just 17.

The three characters in this topical political thriller – it is set on 5 July 2005 and takes place over the course of two days – each have secrets and hidden agendas. Who is spying on who? Who has the most to gain in any given situation? What is the truth behind what Griffen and Traquair have actually done for their country? Does the truth really matter at all? It is a play of questions where each character appears to be playing a game with the others, showing just enough of themselves to entice people in, but not enough to be vulnerable. By the end, there can only be one winner, but is it them or the country that they serve?

Cyprus runs at the Trafalgar Studio 2 until 17 December.