Sep 30 2016 | By More

★★☆☆☆   Static

King’s Theatre: Thurs 29 Sept – Sat 1 Oct 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Much in Rapture’s touring production of Democracy at the King’s could speak to audiences in 2016 Scotland. However, it is buried in a slow, seemingly interminable production.

First performed in 2003, Michael Frayn’s play is about Willy Brandt, the 1970s German Chancellor who was the first left-leading leader in decades, sought rapprochement with East Germany and was brought down in part by the revelation that his close aide Gunter Guillaume was a Stasi agent.

"A parade of middle-aged men standing on stage talking". The Democracy cast. Photo: Richard Campbell

“A parade of middle-aged men standing on stage talking”. The Democracy cast. Photo: Richard Campbell

Although it deals largely with the relationship between Brandt and Guillaume, the play also uses a cast of ten to fill in a great deal of contemporary German politics.

This has unfortunate results, as far too much of the performance consists of a parade of middle-aged men standing on stage talking. To make matters worse, they all (with the exception of Michael Moreland as Gunter’s Stasi handler Arno) are dressed in interchangeable grey suits. In such a large cast, there are just too many political hacks and party functionaries, and telling them apart – while it gives you something to do over the close to three hours’ running time – does not repay the effort.

It does make the point that Brandt was a progressive politician who emerged from a grey and wholly male elite, but this is soon established and does not need to be hammered home.

A series of tableaux make the production even more static, and efforts by director Michael Emans to vary the setting do not always pay off. Despite being a ‘spy story’, this is no thriller – we know from the first minute who the spy is and we know what is going to happen. It seems to take forever getting there, and even when the story seems to have been resolved more exposition follows.

Saddled with unrealistic expectations

There is a great deal of clever and thought-provoking dialogue, but it is buried under so much unnecessary repetition and extraneous detail that it is hardly worth the effort. A play dealing with European relations, the building of walls, the cynicism of politics and the in-fighting of left-wing parties could have a great deal of contemporary resonance, but this is never achieved. It is not difficult to see why Rapture thought such themes could be timely, but this already has the air of a museum piece.

Neil Caple (Gunter Guillaume) and Tom Hodgkins (Willy Brandt) in Rapture Theatre's production of Democracy by Michael Frayn. Photo: Richard Campbell.

Neil Caple (Gunter Guillaume) and Tom Hodgkins (Willy Brandt) in Rapture Theatre’s production of Democracy by Michael Frayn. Photo: Richard Campbell.

Frayn was surely thinking of Tony Blair when he wrote in 2003 about a politician of an apparently new type saddled with unrealistic expectations, and whose reputation was torpedoed largely by his own failings. Tom Hodgkins turns in an impressive central performance as Brandt, suggesting his strange charisma as well as his occasionally paralysing self-doubt.

Neil Caple plays Guillaume as a charmingly ineffectual nobody; it is an effective turn, but how he could be either an East German spy or a high-flying political aide stretches credulity.

The remainder of the cast, including such distinguished Scottish actors as Sean Scanlan, Stewart Porter and Colin McCredie, all do their best but are struggling against a setting that is monochrome in so many ways. A taut two or three-hander lasting an hour would surely have done better justice to the story than this sprawling affair, lacking as it is in tension, immediacy or even much interest.

Running time 2 hours 50 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Thursday 29 September – Saturday 1 October 2016
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinee Sat 1: 2.30pm.
Details and tickets from:

Click on the image below to puchase the script from Amazon:

Democracy on tour 2016:
29 September – 1 October Edinburgh
Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
4 October Greenock
Beacon Arts Centre
01475 723 723 Book online
6 October Stranraer
Ryan Centre
01776 703535 Book online
7 October Dumfries
Theatre Royal
01387 254209 Book online
8 October Peebles
Eastgate Centre
01721 725777 Book online
11 – 12 October Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online


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