14th March, The Crucible.
Reviewer – Phill James.
The Michael Frayn Season concludes this month with the production of one of his newest plays, Democracy. Set between the period of 1969-74, the play centres around Willy Brandt, then-chancellor of West Germany. Based on fact, the play is a complex web of secrets and deceptions entangled with genuine truths and friendship. Director Paul Miller uses multiple voices to tell the story, and we flit between the characters’ inner thoughts, as well as their private and public dialogue throughout the unfolding of events. With minimal but effective set design and an array of spotlights, Miller trusts his cast to carry the plot often through timing alone and he is never once disappointed.
Democracy is first and foremost a brilliant play. It was relevant when it was first performed almost ten years, but now, with our own fragile coalition coming under increasing pressure, it seems more relevant than ever. One of the things that this production does so well is create a genuine relationship between Brandt and his betrayer, Gunter Guillaume. While the play effectively reveals its ending from the start, things unfold in unexpected ways and there is genuine emotion when the inevitable conclusion is reached.
This is a high-quality production and the cast live up to the billing. Aidan McArdle makes a fine Guillaume, both an amusing and engaging figure in his conflicted and ultimately tormented depiction. Elsewhere William Hoyland chews up the stage in all the right ways with his portrayal of Herbet Wehner, and Richard Hope makes an affable Horst Ehmke come to life. But it is Patrick Drury as Brandt that walks tallest amongst this fine ensemble. He switches effortlessly between casual chat with his colleagues, lonesome musings with Guillaume and stirring, brilliant political speeches. In real life Brandt was an inspirational and influential leader and it is to Drury’s credit that we believe this from his performance.
Following on from Benefactors and the superb Copenhagen, Democracy is a near faultless production of a brilliant play. The Sheffield theatre scene continues to go from strength to strength and this season is a real coup for the Crucible. Calls from corners of the press to take these shows back to London are both patronising and insulting. Sheffield should be proud of its players once again, as they have produced a marvelous and topical production that should resonate with all of us in an increasingly unstable political climate. Highly recommended.
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