Review: Democracy

I SPY: The cast of  Democracy cast Pic: contributed
I SPY: The cast of Democracy cast Pic: contributed
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WORDS. Words. Words. Michael Frayn’s Democracy is a wordy play.

King’s Theatre, Leven Street

* * * *

It takes what are arguably the most pivotal four years in Germany’s post-war history and distills them down into just over two hours.

It’s a massive ask. So many characters. So much history. Such intricate narrative.

Hitler is the past and Germany has a new Chancellor, the charismatic, left-wing Willy Brandt. It’s not long, however, before his own political party are plotting against him.

Deputy Chairman Helmut Schmidt, played with roguish intent by Jack Lord, has his eye on the top job, and there are those in the party who would like to see him succeed.

As his enemies close in and the threat of an East German spy in his own office is uncovered, who can the already fatally flawed Brandt trust.

And so, in this intriguing production from Rapture Theatre Company, we have two narrators.

Willy Brandt, played by Tom Hodgkins as a fallible, distant soul whose political survival relies on instinctive gestures as much as it does the sincerity of his oratory skills, may be the central character, but Democracy is Neil Caple’s play.

As Gunter Guillaume, the Stasi agent from East Berlin hiding in plain sight as Brandt’s devoted assistant, Caple succinctly captures the excitement, pride, loss and ultimate disillusionment that his job brings.

Seldom off stage throughout, the role is a massive learn for the actor.

Impressively, he barely misses a beat as his story unfolds in shared asides and secret meetings with Michael Moreland’s anonymous spy handler, Arno Kretschmann.

Between them, they fill in the blanks, driving the story forward with a series of exchanges that somehow never quite capture the seriousness of the situation.

That’s down to the writing, those words again, which never seem quite urgent enough or carry sufficient gravitas to reflect the momentous events unfolding.

Slower sections, particularly in Act II are lifted by a wonderfully animated turn from Sean Scanlan as puppet-master ‘Uncle’ Herbet Wehner.

Head of the parliamentary faction he is a man who keeps files on all his colleagues and Scanlan’s fruity delivery captures the manipulative, conniving nature of the man with a barely disguised relish.

Likewise, former Taggart star Colin McCredie crafts a nicely bumbling head of West German security, hapless spy catcher Gunther Nollau.

More West Wing than Deutschland 83, this complex, and at times long-winded piece, still manages to give a fascinating insight into a period of history that changed the world forever.

Run ends Saturday