In the climax of the Crucible’s much-anticipated Michael Frayn season, Democracy catapults the audience straight from the domestic backdrop of Benefactors to the testosterone-fuelled politics of post-war Germany.
Democracy follows Communist spy Gunter Guillaume as he is planted in Willy Brandt’s coalition government by the East Berlin regime.
Aidan McArdle’s Guillaume seems deliberately irritating as a capricious political puppet of both the East and the West, when he becomes inevitably infatuated by Brandt’s silky charisma.
But the audience knows from the offset that Guillaume’s communist convictions are never as sharp as his aides in the East, despite him sporting a brown suit: the sartorial symbol of the East.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the plot could get a little turgid. But Frayn’s interlocking narratives and fraught soliloquies transport us into the more uncertain world of politicians’ private lives where wives and children become mere shadows of the political eclipse.
They become an allegory of how the West Berliners see their estranged eastern neighbours, who are seen as different and separate, yet always hanging over them like an unwanted but unavoidable stench.
When first performed in 2003, the play sat firmly in the satirical context of New Labour’s champagne socialism. In 2012, Paul Miller’s production develops a greater significance as an allegory of a divided coalition where compromise is key and the adage that “under capitalism, man is oppressed by man; under socialism, it’s the other way round” rings piercingly through the air.
The shortfall of an all-male cast and the uncompromising political theme are loosened slightly by some persuasive touches. Brandt’s butler is the only character to question the morality of his master’s sexual infidelities in a prosaic Yorkshire trawl reminiscent of Shakespeare’s insightful laymen.
The result is a fiercely intelligent, immaculately acted production; if a little anti-climatic.