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Published Monday 16 February 2004 at 11:25 by Peter Hepple

Though now into his eighth decade, it is apparent that Michael Frayn is the most gifted playwright of our time, particularly for his ability to make sense - and a gripping play - out of a modern historical period most of us have forgotten.

His subject here is Willy Brandt, initially mayor of Berlin and then federal chancellor of West Germany, whose major ambition was to reunite East and West Germany against the background of the Cold War. This was eventually accomplished, of course, but the somewhat cynically titled Democracy is about the complexity both of politics in this day and age - something our own prime minister is discovering at the moment - and Brandt himself.

Though a committed party man, Brandt spent the war years in Norway, complex in itself, for one never quite realises what he was doing there under a variety of aliases. He also had a weakness for women, which always had to be kept under wraps.

Democracy is therefore a play about a complicated period in European history but also about a complicated man, played superbly in Michael Blakemore’s production by Roger Allam, who makes him both alluring and perhaps devious.

But not as devious as Gunter Guillaume, the East German who gets himself installed as Brandt’s fawning personal assistant while at the same time passing information across the Wall to Steven Pacey’s calm and stolid contact man. Conleth Hill’s performance as Guillaume is undoubtedly a tour de force as he worms his way into Brandt’s confidence, always cheerful and willing, sometimes incurring the suspicion of other ministers but invariably allaying their fears through his smilingly camp persona.

All the performances by this all-male cast have a satisfying solidity, dangerously vengeful and treacherous as most of them are but David Ryall, as an elderly politico who has served both right and left in his time, is particularly watchable.

This show was reviewed prior to the website launch. A new review may be pending.

Production information

Cottesloe, London , September 9 to December 13

Michael Frayn
Michael Blakemore
National Theatre
Cast includes:
Roger Allam, Conleth Hill, David Ryall, Steven Pacey
Running time:
2hrs 30mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014