Memories are a curious thing, they are always there, lurking beneath the surface, ready to spring upon you in the most peculiar of moments, and rarely in chronological order. Watching Kieron Barry’s new play Spy for Spy reminds me of this phenomenon; it brilliantly uses the concept of shuffling, a most beloved feature in our music streaming apps, to create the gripping memory of a love story which plays out differently every night. 

Credit: Ben Ealovega

In summary, Sarah and Molly meet on New Year’s Eve and are immediately attracted to each other. They are as different as two people can be, but the chemistry is there. Spy for Spy shows the audience the highs and lows of their relationship, but not necessarily in the order they happened. 

This concept of storytelling is not new. In the author’s note, Barry explains he has drawn inspiration from the un-sequenced order of the scrolls which make up the Bible. As a child, I loved mystery books where you could decide between two chapters to read next, which made up a variety of possible outcomes; however, I have not seen this device used in a theatre production thus far. The method of shuffling the scenes is carried out by asking random audience members to pick up a heart-shaped balloon which has a hidden scene title and song attached to it. It is a lovely way to ensure the audience is invested from the beginning. The cast and team then have about 30 minutes to prepare the scenes in this chosen order. Due to this method, over 700 sequences are possible, and I wonder if anyone will see the same play as we did last night, which is fascinating! In a way, this takes the memory analogy even further. If you and I were talking about the play, we would have different recollections of the same story.

Credit: Ben Ealovega

The storyline is powerful and intense, and I appreciate that the stage is minimalistic in contrast. Bethia Jane Green gave us a bit of structure by using pastel-coloured walls and a matching chair, desk and footrest. The light by Holly Ellis complements the colour pallet and helped to create just the right mood. It allows Olive Grey (Molly) and Amy Lennox (Sarah) to shine without distraction – and shine they did! Spy for Spy is intense, but both actresses make their characters so individual, quirky, and relatable, that I could see myself being friends with them. They are brilliant in conveying the love that is required to go through everything life has thrown at them. Even though at first I wondered how these two people would ever end up with each other, Grey and Lennox made me see it. The direction by Lucy Jane Atkinson is subtle but just right.

After the show, my immediate questions were “How will that transpire to a bigger stage? A greater audience? And when can I see it next?”. It is fantastic to see something so refreshingly different and to witness a new idea coming to life as successfully as Spy for Spy accomplishes. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Spy for Spy is on at Riverside Studios until the 2nd of July – tickets and info here!

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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