The Vaults, London – until 3 February 2019
David Thame’s two-man show, which premieres at the Vault Festival, presents a naggingly familiar scenario. A young, brilliant, naive mathematician lives alone in a London flat, looking for sex and company in gay clubs. But he has just moved from Cheltenham, an instant giveaway that he is a secret services cryptographer at GCHQ, transferred to MI6 and a target for anyone who wants to know about his work. When he takes a gorgeous young man – a ‘9’ – back to his flat and tells him about his work in quantum computing he is already doomed.
Kompromat is a fictionalised version of the spy-in-a-bag story, the unexplained death of an M16 cryptographer found dead in a North Face bag in his Pimlico flat in 2010. The key feature of the case is that, despite the bizarre, highly publicised, circumstances no one actually knows what happens, except presumably those who will never tell.
Thame fills the huge gap at the heart of the story by telling it from the perspective of Zac (Max Rinehart), the club pick-up responsible for the death of Tom (Guy Warren-Thomas), the Williams character now lying dead on his sofa. With powerful economy, Thame spins a backstory of a shady network of Hungarian operatives, led by Zac’s ‘daddy’ Janos who keeps in a Budapest mansion, gives him presents for sex and keeps him on hand to deal with problems, such as Williams. The latter is up from the country, insecure, foolish and easy prey for smooth, ruthless operators linked, somewhat vaguely, to Russians and oligarchs.
The play is well-structured, with scenes recounting the evening leading to Tom’s death interspersed with reflection from Zac on his sinister situation and occupation. The story is engagingly told, and characters are strong. However, the play is also problematic, a fiction that theorises the tragic death of a young man whose family have never received a credible explanation.
Without a detailed knowledge of the case, which is a web of misinformation, it is hard to know whether Kompromat sheds light on what happened, or simply redeploys elements of the story for dramatic effect. Certainly some aspects – the central role played by Hungarians, for example – beg more questions that they answer.
Thame has created a neat drama, but its explicit relationship to such a complex story, with real consequences for people who are very much alive, leaves a lingering sense that this speculative play allows the writer both to have his cake and to eat it.