Rik Mayall and Stephen Fry in Cell Mates

Cell Mates takes as its central characters the spy George Blake and the Irish petty criminal, Sean Bourke, who sprang Blake from Wormwood Scrubs prison. It tracks their relationship from their first meeting in prison to their hide-out in London, and on to the flat they shared in Moscow.

Although the play is concerned with ambition and betrayal, it also deals with the equally murky issues of mutual dependence, self-imprisonment, and the couple’s desperate struggle for inner, as well as outer, freedom.


Cell Mates was first presented at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, on 17th January 1995 and transferred to the Albery Theatre, Londonon 16th February 1995. The cast, in order of appearance, was as follows:

SEAN BOURKE – Rik Mayall
GEORGE BLAKE – Stephen Fry
MIRANDA/ZINAIDA – Carole Nimmons

Director: Simon Gray
Set Designer: Eileen Diss
Lighting Designer: Mick Hughes

(The role of George Blake was subsequently played by Simon Ward)


“…a marvellous Fry and his equally impressive co-star Rik Mayall come of age as actors in Simon Gray’s witty, touching and thoroughly humane new play about the unlikely friendship between an odd couple of jail birds who meet over a mutual interest in the Wormwood Scrubsmagazine.”

Maureen Paton in The Daily Express, February 17th 1995

“Cell Mates, Simon Gray’s fine new play, often seems to take on the features of a joke: “Have you heard the one about the Irishman, the Russian, and the half-Dutch, half-Egyptian with a British passport?” Except that with a real-life spy, George Blake at its centre, this is a joke with a thought-provoking sting… Full of deftly witty and revealing touches, Cell Mates chooses to wear its intelligence so lightly that it risks being underrated.”

Paul Taylor, The Independent, February 20th, 1995

“What Simon Gray explores and Stephen Fry delivers so splendidly is that impenetrable mask of deception of a man incapable of basic honesty – even for something he desperately needs… Rik Mayall’s performance in this nerve-edged role is a revelation. He combines the easy, instant charm of the Irish with a weasel intelligence almost a match for Fry’s buttoned-up mental agility.”

Jack Tinker, Daily Mail, February 17th 1995

“Simon Ward has performed a notable feat in taking over Stephen Fry’s part in Cell Mates at the Albery at a few days’ notice (all the more so since it involved memorising quite a few lines in Russian); but the strain doesn’t show. Ward’s initially amiable, progressively damning portrayal of the spy, George Blake, sharpens the impact of Simon Gray’s play. He also interacts beautifully with Rik Mayall, who continues to give an outstanding performance as Blake’s fellow escapee, Sean Bourke.”

John Gross in The Sunday Telegraph, March 12th 1995


Set Design for Cell Mates by Eileen Diss

Set Design for Cell Mates by Eileen Diss


Cell Mates is now available as a Faber Contemporary Classic in Simon Gray: Plays 5. To order a copy on special offer at 25% discount please contact Faber and insert code GRAYPLAYS .
Cell Mates is also published in the following edtition:
Cell Mates (Faber and Faber 1995 ISBN 0-571-17402-7)


Simon Gray’s diary following the first production of Cell Mates, Fat Chance, was published in 1995.

Fat Chance is published in the following editions:

Fat Chance (Faber and Faber 1995 ISBN 0-571-17792-1)

Fat Chance (Granta Books 2005 ISBN 1-86207-746-0)


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