This was Jerry's review of the same production when it premiered last June at the Jericho Arts Centre.
Michael Frayn is one of the brainiest and most daring playwrights in the contemporary theatre. He’s made huge hits of plays consisting entirely of smart talk among obscure historical characters far from his English and North American audiences’ centres of interest. In Copenhagen it was Werner Heisenberg, Nils Bohr, and nuclear physics in 1941 Denmark. Democracy features Willy Brandt, Gunter Guillaume, and the inner workings of German politics in the 1970s.
To make matters even more challenging, the Vancouver rights for Democracy were somehow secured by semi-professional United Players. How would a non-Equity company manage such a talky, sophisticated play on such a dramatically difficult topic?
Beautifully, as it turns out. Adam Henderson, his ten actors, and their design team create a fascinating, funny, utterly entertaining evening of intelligent theatre.
Democracy tells the story of East German Stasi informant Guillaume (Greg Anderson), who became personal assistant to West German Chancellor Brandt (Graham Bullen) during the politically volatile 1970s when the charismatic Socialist was working to heal the rifts between east and west. Guillaume is the central character, interacting with Brandt and his inner circle, reporting to his black-leather-jacketed Stasi connection (Murray Price), and confiding his increasingly mixed feelings to the audience.
Guillaume’s spying is only one part of the play’s Shakespearean political intrigues. Swirling around glamorous, enigmatic, womanizing Brandt, as he creates “Camelot on the Rhine,” are plots and counterplots hatched by his own allies: machiavellian old Lefty “Uncle Herbert” Wehner (Jason Logan in a terrifically funny performance), frustrated Chancellor-in-waiting Helmut Schmidt (Steffen Mennekes), Liberal coalition partner Gensher (Richard Strachan), aides (David Campbell and James Gill), and security men (Tom Belding and Paul Toolan).
Ironically, the East Germans use Guillaume’s information to help keep Brandt in power. And though the revelation of Guillaume’s spying eventually forces Brandt from office, the end of the play suggests that Brandt and his policies ultimately led to the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany.
Guillaume is a marvelous character. Upon first meeting him, Brandt says he looks like the manager of a pornographic book shop, and Anderson fits the part perfectly. Pudgy, balding, slightly disheveled, and a little greasy, he’s the ideal foil to Bullen’s tall, slim, elegant Brandt. Exhilarated by his success, he has the great comic energy of an Iago without the nastiness. In fact, Guillaume’s attraction to Brandt nearly compromises his spy mission. “How can you see into somebody’s heart,” he confesses, “if you don’t fall a little in love with them?”
The opening night audience fell in love with both Anderson and Bullen and most of their co-conspirators in the clear, fast-paced production, illuminated by evocative historical slides, brought to us by this Little Company That Could.