Sometimes events in the present can be seen more clearly through the prism of the past. Written by Sarah Sigal and directed by Jessica Beck, Agent of Influence: The Secret Life of Pamela More is set in 1936, at a time when Hitler’s status in Germany was in the ascendancy and through his associates, making inroads with potentially sympathetic parties in Europe and beyond. Rebecca Dunn plays the eponymous Lady More – socialite and fashion editor at The Times.
Happily oblivious about anything beyond fashion, More’s apolitical nature undergoes a U-turn when two men help to irrevocably change her outlook: Mr Stern, a colleague from The Times and ‘Charlie’, who works for the Secret Services and recruits her for a mission of national importance. The crisis? David, the Prince of Wales intends to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, who also happens to be in regular contact with Count Von Ribbentrop, an influential member of the Third Reich. With memories of ‘double agent’ Mata Hari still fresh from the First World War, alarm bells are ringing. As a woman with her own natural ‘gifts’, contacts and position, More is an ideal candidate to mix in these exclusive circles and report back to Charlie…
Half of the charm of Agent of Influence is More’s matter-of-fact observations about people and events. There is an element of cattishness in some of the comments, but much of the humour stems from the superficial observations she makes which we all do and that like a magpie, gets distracted by the shiny, opulent apparel worn by others. Of course, this has overtures to many magazines and websites nowadays, where the appetite for gossip about celebrities and their apparel outweighs any consideration for serious news.
Interweaving the details of yesteryear with an immediacy that makes the show feel fresh and current, Dunn makes Sigal’s prose her own. By playing it ‘straight’, the inherent humour in More’s escapades doesn’t feel forced, but naturally rises to the surface. By the same token, the moments where More ‘finds her voice’ and is critical of the status quo has unexpected gravitas.
There have been other shows like Dick Barton: Special Agent and The 39 Steps that are also set in the 1930s and ’40s, deftly blending political intrigue and comedy. But what sets Agent of Influence apart from other shows in this genre is its all-female creative team, the show’s prescience and the fact that the story isn’t told from ‘Richard Hannay’s’ perspective, but from ‘Pamela’s’…
© Michael Davis 2017
Agent of Influence runs at Drayton Arms Theatre until 23rd September 2017
Agent of Influence continues its national tour in October at:
Wingates Village Institute, Northumberland – 5th October
Hepscott Parish Hall, Morpeth – 6th October
Whorlton Village Hall, Barnard Castle – 7th October
Tirril Reading Rooms, Cumbria – 8th October
Lund Village Hall, Yorkshire – 12th October
Wroot Village Hall, Doncaster – 13th October
Goxhill Memorial Hall, Doncaster – 14th October
Barton-on-Humber, Assembly Rooms, Doncaster – 15th October