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Cell Mates - Hampstead Theatre

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

UNPERFORMED since 1995, Hampstead Theatre is presenting Simon Gray’s deftly funny play, Cell Mates, from December 7, 2017 (previews from November 30) to January 20, 2018.

Spies betray people. That’s what we do. It becomes a – a habit. Difficult to break – even when it’s not – not strictly necessary.

Directed by Artistic Director Edward Hall, this absorbing drama explores how personal freedom is an illusion and even friendship must have carefully circumscribed limits in a world where deception is a reflex response.

Wormwood Scrubs Prison, London, 1961. One of Britain’s most notorious double agents, George Blake, is serving a 42 year sentence – that is, until he strikes up an unlikely friendship with Irish petty criminal, Sean Bourke. Both men are eccentric outsiders, and each sees the possibility of escape – and not just from prison – through the other.

But once on the outside, can their mutual dependence survive the mounting pressures they face from MI5, from the KGB – and indeed from themselves?

Simon Gray wrote more than 30 stage plays including Butley, Otherwise Engaged (both received Evening Standard Award for Best Play), Japes, Michael, Japes Too, Missing Dates (premiered together at Hampstead in 2014 as In the Vale of Health), Close of Play, The Rear Column, Quartermaine’s Terms (winner of eight Obie Awards), The Common Pursuit, Hidden Laughter, The Late Middle Classes (winner of the Barclay’s Best Play Award), The Old Masters and Little Nell.

He is the author of many plays for television and radio, also films, including the 1987 adaptation of J L Carr’s A Month in the Country, and TV films including Running Late, After Pilkington (winner of the Prix Italia) and Emmy Award-winning Unnatural Pursuits. His acclaimed works of non-fiction are An Unnatural Pursuit, How’s That for Telling ’Em, Fat Lady?, Fat Chance, Enter a Fox, The Smoking Diaries, The Year of the Jouncer, The Last Cigarette and Coda.

The dramatisation of his Diaries, The Last Cigarette, co-authored with Hugh Whitemore and directed by Richard Eyre, played in the West End in Spring/Summer 2009. In 1990, Simon Gray was awarded the BAFTA Writer’s Award. He was appointed CBE in the 2005 New Year’s Honours for his services to Drama and Literature. He died in 2008.

Hampstead Theatre’s Artistic Director Edward Hall’s productions include Filthy Business, Rabbit Hole, Firebird, Wonderland, Sunny Afternoon, Raving, Chariots of Fire, No Naughty Bits, Loyalty and Enlightenment. As Artistic Director of Propeller, his Shakespeare productions have toured worldwide, played both in the West End and on Broadway, and have won numerous awards both in the UK and overseas.

His other theatre work includes A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the ForumEdmond with Kenneth Branagh (National Theatre), Macbeth with Sean Bean (Albery Theatre), The Constant Wife (Apollo Theatre), Julius Caesar and Henry V (RSC), and The Deep Blue Sea (Vaudeville Theatre).

His television work includes The Durrells, Partners in Crime, Restless, Downton Abbey, Strike Back, Spooks and Kingdom.

Casting for Cell Mates will be announced in due course.