In 2001 I enjoyed modest success on the London Fringe with my first play, Dancing Bears, a comedy in which a (fictionalised Old Labour) retired foreign secretary of little brain is honey-trapped into boasting of a treasonable association with an Eastern Bloc diplomat during the Cold War.
Actors are generally not very good at keeping up with the news, which, judging by the opinions they voice when they do, is just as well, but if any of my super cast from back then has been following the story of Jeremy Corbyn and the Czech spy they might indulge in a little snigger at the unwitting prescience of the piece.
It’s not a perfect fit, of course. In 1986 Mr Corbyn was just an Opposition back-bencher who, far from having access to state secrets, was probably the last to know what was going on even in his own local party. But my fictional traitor is presented to the audience as an object not of righteous patriotic loathing but of ridicule; his crime is just being a vain, thick lefty. That makes the comparison rather more apt.
By the way, when I say “modest success”, I mean that the show didn’t lose money, and that Time Out plugged it as a “critics’ choice”, which still amazes me, given the content.
In his dramatic works about real British traitors the great Alan Bennett explored this subject in greater depth, as well as with greater aplomb, making the habit of secrecy and hypocrisy for such gay men as Burgess and Blunt, and the laws of the repressive establishment that drove them to it, inseparable from their treachery.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection