Michael Frayn’s play Democracy, currently playing at Tarragon, is not always easy to follow. For some reason, this doesn’t particularly matter. The second political drama set in Berlin in Tarragon’s current season chronicles the rise and fall of Willy Brandt, West Germany’s charismatic leader from 1969 until 1974, and is crammed full of politicians, spies, treaties and references to the nuances of Cold War-era Germany that may occasionally go over your head. But it never for a second stops being absolutely fascinating. Frayn is known for his tightly-packed scripts, most famously for his smash-hit farce Noises Off, but also for his other political work, Copenhagen. This one focuses on the relationship between Brandt and his favourite aide, Gunter Guillaume, an East German ex-pat who also happens to be a spy.
Richard Rose deftly directs a perfect cast within Charlotte Dean’s gorgeous set, which is mostly a realistic office space, except that instead of cubicle partitions, there is the Berlin Wall. Alon Nashman is typically captivating as Guillaume, caught between his East German patriotism and his growing respect for Brandt’s leadership. RH Thomson is phenomenal as Brandt, brilliantly capturing the spirit of the leader. It’s easy to leave the theatre wishing you could vote RH in the next election. This is the best show so far in Tarragon’s current season, which is saying a lot considering how terrifically strong it has been. Let’s hope the trend continues.
Democracy plays until April 6.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.