RSC Play about the Shayler Case

In Lon­don in 2001 the Roy­al Shakespeare Com­pany per­formed a play called “Epi­taph for the Offi­cial Secrets Act” by Paul Green­grass (who co-wrote the notori­ous book “Spycatch­er”).  The play focused on the polit­ic­al issues around whis­tleblow­ing and the Shayler case.

It was an excel­lent play, with an intel­li­gent ana­lys­is of the cur­rent mess that is secrecy legis­la­tion in the UK, but it was rather strange to see act­ors using words your own words on stage.

The fol­low­ing report appeared in “The Observ­er”:

Shayler is a model spy for MI5 play

by Vanessa Thorpe, Arts Cor­res­pond­ent, 2001

Henry V, Macbeth and Ham­let, the great
Shakespearean prot­ag­on­ists who strut before audi­ences at
Strat­ford-upon-Avon, are to be joined tomor­row by a new name, the
former MI5 reneg­ade, Dav­id Shayler.

A new play by Paul Green­grass, the screen­writer respons­ible for ITV’s
upcom­ing film about Bloody Sunday and for the award-win­ning tele­vi­sion
dram­at­isa­tion of The Murder of Steph­en Lawrence , is to be premiered
tomor­row night by the Roy­al Shakespeare Com­pany.

Epi­taph
for the Offi­cial Secrets Act will also fea­ture Shayler­’s girl­friend,
Annie Machon, and the MI5’s first woman dir­ect­or, Stella Rim­ing­ton. ‘It
is a play about the year that MI5 first decided to recruit a new sort
of agent,’ explained Simon Reade, the RSC’s dram­at­urge, refer­ring to
1991, when the secret ser­vice briefly turned away from their
estab­lished Oxbridge source of gradu­ates and advert­ised for applic­ants
from the wider pop­u­la­tion.

The play starts with a
read­ing of the advert­ise­ment that news­pa­pers ran at the time,’ said
Reade, who developed the piece with Green­grass for its six-night run.
‘The ad showed an empty chair under the words “Godot isn’t com­ing”.’
The play then deals with some of the changes that fol­lowed as Rim­ing­ton
took con­trol of an organ­isa­tion that was fight­ing to redefine itself.

Machon and Shayler, both from the gradu­ate intake that was then new, are iden­ti­fied only by their first names.

News of their the­at­ric­al debut came as a shock to Shayler and Machon,
who are in Lon­don await­ing Shayler­’s tri­al on charges of breach­ing the
Offi­cial Secrets Act. Machon said: ‘It is rather alarm­ing to find that
we are both going to played by act­ors.’


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