Thursday, 21 June 2012

Democracy Review

by Michael Frayn
The Old Vic SE1       

It’s Complicated 

TLT and her motorised assistant made their way to the white pillars of the German Chancellery, sorry, The Old Vic, for a  performance of Michael Frayn’s 2003 spy drama  Democracy. In a time of coalition and European nations yoked uneasily together, this proved to be an intriguing, if uneven, evening. Democracy is based on a real-life 1970s’ scandal when the knife-edge task of keeping political parties, straining-at-the-leash diverse Western German states and an East German Communist neighbour on side falls on the enigmatic figure of Chancellor Willi Brandt played with wry downbeat charm by Patrick Drury.  Meanwhile by his side is the scuttling, loyal assistant Guenter Guillaume (Aidan McArdle looking for all the world like a stocky Groucho Marx who really was of German descent!), eventually exposed as a Stasi plant. From the Lilian Baylis seats (the Upper Circle) the dry complex wit of the dialogue was sometimes a little lost in the first act. Perhaps the play’s poetic pace and rhythms are more suited to an intimate stage, despite the striking evocation of  governmental conference rooms, corridors and the over-the-border spy control room.  As a blogger, TLT doesn’t have to play the lofty critic and it’s worth eavesdropping audience reaction. Some were totally engrossed in the deadpan evocation of 1970s' politics, personalities and geography. Others were noticeably less enchanted: “A history lesson” and “lack of women” were two comments.  It’s the second act where the ruthless all-male politicking, symbiotic spy network, personal dilemmas and, most of all, the mystery of human behaviour at the heart of this play, come into their own . So mixed feelings reflected in a verdict of an amber with some flashes of green light.