Michael Frayn is a very clever man. His plays never fail to surprise and educate me. Democracy could not be more different in tone and content to Noises Off and yet both are utterly convincing and impressive on stage.
Modern German politics is a complex topic to portray in theatre, and it certainly wouldn’t usually be a subject to attract my attention. However Frayn manages to isolate a fascinating period in this country’s tumultuous history that is rarely written about. ‘Democracy’ is centred around conflict and duality, examining the important relationship between statesman Willy Brandt and his devoted assistant, Gunter Guillaume. Frayn uses these remarkable people and events to create a gripping spy thriller for the stage. The play is predominantly set in the cabinet office, the layout is rather austere… wooden desks and dimmed lighting. I was disappointed by the lack of scene changes… the strict but simple staging remains almost identical throughout the production which feels a little static.
Paul Miller effectively translates this play onto the great Old Vic platform. The all male cast mill about the stage discussing the government situation. The Stasi traitors co-exist on stage while the German Social Democrats go about their daily business. It is a strange conceit whereby one character, Arno Kretschmann remains invisible for the duration of the play. I was most inspired by the very human natural progression of characters, as the deception sets in, the relationships form and bonds organically grow between the men.
Patrick Drury is utterly mesmerising as Willy Brandt, his expressive face and poignant eye contact command the attention of the audience; I couldn’t help but stare at this charismatic man. I really enjoyed Aidan McArdle as Gunter Guillaume, he has an infectious energy on stage and truly commits to the role appearing both humble and sneaky as the spy at the centre of the story. Together these two characters forge a tender and believable working friendship and the interplay between them is the most striking element of the evening.
If you are hoping for a reprisal of the raucous Noises Off, you will be disappointed as Democracy is dry and dense in comparison. However if you enjoy striking and intelligent theatre, this play will appeal and will shed light on an intriguing and momentous part of German history.
Democracy continues until 28 July, book here.