No nation speaks with a single voice – even Hitler never achieved that – but Michael Frayn's 2003 play offers a timely opportunity to listen in to a postwar Germany which was particularly cacophonous.
It's 1969, and West Germany has just elected its first left-wing chancellor in 40 years. Willy Brandt's willingness to listen – to advisors, to faithful sidekick Günther Guillaume, to East German demands for recognition as a state – is both his gift and his downfall, especially when Guillaume is exposed as an East German spy. Brandt, it turns out, wasn't the only one listening to everybody.
With skilful, if occasionally overwhelming intensity, Frayn peers into the German psyche, making full use of the parallels between Brandt and Guillaume, both fatherless and conflicted, and their divided nation, also orphaned by its recent past. Paul Miller's minimalist direction and dark, spare set feel a little communist in their sparseness, but perhaps that is a deliberate reminder of the ostensibly silent Germany on the other side of the Wall which none of these talkers can really drown out.
Democracy means listening to everyone, from master to mole. Yet the need for a messiah persists: everyone attends worshipfully to Brandt (Patrick Drury, monumental and charismatic), including his Judas, Guillaume, played with pitiful conviction by Adrian McArdle. Brandt's suspicion is instinctive, Guillaume's purely professional: after all, his instructions are to gauge, by any underhand method available, whether Brandt is trustworthy.
The brilliant, layered irony of their situation is not Frayn's invention, but he plays it like a musician with an instrument – or, perhaps, a politician with the people.
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3.3 / 5
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I have to admit I went to the play without knowing what it is about or any any of the history involved. That is probably why I liked it. It is educational as well as inpiring. Very well acted. However, I can see how it would seem slow and boring if you already knew the story.
This promised so much and delivered so little. The performances were good but there was no tension and I couldn't relate to any of the characters. The pace was so slow as to be static in the first half and at that point I'd had enough and left. Perhaps the second half was 4 star, but the trudge through the first half was a high price to pay.