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INTERVIEW: Kieron Barry talks Spy for Spy

CW: mention of Death

The world premiere of Kieron Barry’s innovative new play Spy for Spy will play at Riverside Studios this summer, playing the Hammersmith venue’s Studio 3!

Spy for Spy is a romantic comedy with a difference; a drama performed like a playlist. The inner workings of a modern relationship are recounted in a random order so no two performances of this brand-new play by Kieron Barry will be the same.

Spy for Spy follows, Sarah and Molly are two Californians who love each other – and that’s all they have in common. As the uptight lawyer and the free-spirited dreamer strive to make their improbable relationship work, we see them break up, meet the parents, move in together and fall in love – all in a completely random sequence.

Spy for Spy asks if our lives make more sense in the wrong order, and if there is any logic to love as it zigzags from moving drama to laugh-out-loud comedy. Can we have love without grief? Is honesty nothing more than cruelty? Is intimacy just spying?

I got to speak to Kieron Barry, the writer of the show, to ask what the show is about and why the show is so different and unique like no other.


What is Spy for Spy about?

The play is about love and memory. We see a couple at six moments in their relationship, some significant, some ephemeral, some humorous, some tragic. Each night these scenes are performed in a random order, giving us the sensation of the relationship being remembered, perhaps long after it has ended.

What was the inspiration for the show?

I became intrigued by one of the most basic tenets of existence: what does it mean to share your life with someone? How different could your partner be from you and the relationship might still work? Indeed, what does it mean to have a relationship work? Is it simply having more good days than bad? Or is there something deeper and more mysterious going on?

There is something heartbreakingly noble in two people saying ‘Yes, let’s try this thing – who knows what it will be.’ And yet it’s also very confusing; on the one hand deciding to share your life with someone is courageous and selfless but on the other hand presumably everyone does it because they believe it will make themselves happier. Perhaps there is actually no moral component to it at all – maybe coupling up is a natural process we’re unable to prevent. It just happens to us, like gravity. It is called falling in love, after all.


What gave you the idea for audience participation?

I knew I wanted the scenes to be in a random order every night. The next two questions were therefore (i) how does the audience know this is what we’re doing, and (ii) how is the order arrived at. Having some of the audience themselves create the order seemed an elegant solution to both problems.

How do you think the audience will react to the participation?

Despite their participation, to some extent the audience are powerless in that they serve merely as the handmaidens of Fate. Nevertheless the act of fishing a small piece of folded paper from a glass bowl has a pleasing element of quasi-magic to it. That’s on the technical, preparatory side. The real question is how different will the play feel depending on the order in which it’s performed. Naturally it is my hope that all audience members shall attempt to see the play 720 times to fully experience the effect of every possible variant. Indeed I would argue this is the only intellectually responsible thing for theatregoers to do.


What are the key themes and message of the show?

Even those of us who know what it is to be loved overwhelmingly and durably must ultimately view our lives as unrequited since our real opposite number – death – refuses to respond to even the most urgent of queries. Blank and arrogant, death is coming for us and sometimes we won’t even hear it roll up its sleeves. Opposition will not be brooked and compromise cannot be brokered; unlike every other fraught relationship in life we do not want death to meet us halfway.

There are, happily, a few benefits to permanent obliteration. A key one is that it can inspire the only meaningful patriotism; we’re all on the same side. This lies behind every human allegiance, and the play attempts to illuminate this.

What is it about the show that will pull in the audience? And how do you think They will react?

I hope that people will find the play funny, and – fingers crossed – moving. But there’s something really tricky in the achieving of a theatrical effect or response. If you set out to cause it you won’t get it; you have to be trying to do something else instead and then only later look behind you, as it were, to see the reaction. It’s like in business – if your only goal is to make a profit then you probably won’t. Or if you try to make someone fall in love with you it will never work. You have to get on with the thing you really want to do – in this case telling a story, answering the question ‘what happens next?’ – and just hope things twist out OK.


As an all female creative team, what was it that you wanted to bring to the Show?

We’re not quite all-female currently; there is a very small handful of men involved too and I would gingerly identify as one of them. We simply wanted to work with the very best individuals we could, and I think we’ve achieved that.

What makes the story relevant in today’s world?

I’m generally rather allergic to relevant plays. I go to the theatre to get away from the contemporary nonsenses and crises. I suppose there are some people out there longing to pay for an evening of Brexit or covid but immaturely or not my heart sinks at such a prospect. I love comedies and – that rarest of all theatrical genres – thrillers.

Indeed I wonder if there is a truly great play that has ever endured a period of irrelevance? The zeitgeist is fickle and crude – it is partial in both senses – yet the most profound human needs are constant and they blithely transcend the fashions of the day. Plumbing, for example, is rarely in the news but I’m not sure I’d want to go a week without it.


What is your favourite thing about the show?

I’m the kind of anxious people-pleaser who feels safest and most happy when being the cause of laughter in a roomful of strangers. At such moments I feel like a million dollars (currently just over 800 thousand pounds sterling).

The only superior thrill is eliciting a collective gasp. I have achieved this a couple of times so far in the theatre and those moments are up there with the great kisses of my life. So if this play can inspire laughter and surprise then I shall be truly content.

Describe Spy for Spy in one sentence?

Time renders the quiddity of all experience refulgent and numinous. (Roll up!)


Audiences will have the opportunity to affect the show they’re about to watch – they will be given the chance to meet the team before the show, and six will be asked to pick a song title from a bowl. Each song title relates to a scene, and the order in which the song titles are picked will be the order in which the scenes are performed.

Directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson and designer Bethia Jane Green with lighting design by Holly Ellis and sound design by Anna Short.

Spy for Spy is a co-production between Feather Productions, led by Anna Murphy, and TeamAkers – the TV production company led by Laurence Akers and Suranne Jones, making their first foray into theatre.

Spy for Spy plays at the riverside studios (studio 3) from the 15 June – 2 July 2023

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

TICKETS: £25 (£20 concs)

PERFORMANCE TIMES: Tuesday – Saturday @ 7.30pm, Saturday @ 3pm, Sunday @ 4pm


Writer: Harry Brogan & Kieron Barry

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