BBC Radio 4, 30 July 2009
Patrick Bradyn (Bill Nighy) is a washed-up writer of spy thrillers. Although
obsessed with great defectors of the past like Kim Philby, he is unable to translate this interest into financial success.
His work still gets published, but Patrick is the kind of artist who attracts one, possibly two readers to a signing session
at an obscure branch of Waterstone's in Cornwall. His agent Ken (Geoffrey Whitehead) claims to do everything for his client,
but in truth looks for an opportunity to slough Patrick on to someone else. Eventually Lottie (Claudia Elmhurst) takes over;
she takes even less interest in Patrick than Ken.
Patrick's circumstances radically improve once his French translator Hannah (Penelope
Wilton) decides to adapt his latest work into a first-person narrative. Now it seems as if Patrick himself is a spy, recounting
his exploits during the Cold War. None of this is actually true, but he is immediately transformed into a media celebrity.
His French publisher's representative Delphine (Rachel Atkins) begins a passionate affair, while Patrick receives a nomination
of the Proust Award for fiction. Meanwhile Hannah gets left in the background, a relic of Patrick's unsuccessful past.
Celebrity brings unwanted attention as well: Patrick finds himself hounded by Barlow
(Adrian Scarborough), an MI5 representative who tries to make him admit his past associations with the Soviets. When Patrick
refuses, he is immediately classed as an enemy of the state,. Hill's play ends with Patrick forced to make a stark choice
- either admit that the novel is a work of pure fiction (and thereby lose his reputation), or give in to Barlow's exhortations
and risk imprisonment.
Gordon House's production returned to the theme of spies and spying, which has been
extensively explored recently on the BBC's airwaves, with the dramatization of John Le Carré's complete works. Marmalade
for Comrade Philby took a darkly comic approach to the subject by showing how Patrick's spying career was nothing more
than an illusion. Bill Nighy portrayed him as an innocent bewildered by the speed with which his life changed: the oleaginous
Ken came running back to his side; Delphine treated him as a sex symbol; while the media clamoured for interviews with him.
By the end of the play Patrick had acquired sufficient confidence to make a choice
without anyone's help: Ken, Hannah and Delphine remained helpless on the sidelines as he mounted the podium and read extracts
from his novel in such a way as to leave no one in any doubt as to where his future lay. After a lifetime spent vicariously
enjoying the exploits of spies of the past like Philby, Patrick grabbed his opportunity to participate in the Great Game.