Man in the street at centre of spy drama

Richard Hope as Horst Ehmke & Patrick Drury as Willy Brandt in Democracy
Richard Hope as Horst Ehmke & Patrick Drury as Willy Brandt in Democracy

ACTOR Richard Hope has a cv of stage and screen credits which runs to several pages but he is appearing in Sheffield for the first time in Michael Frayn’s Democracy at the Crucible Theatre.

In the play chronicling the rise and fall of West German chancellor Willy Brandt, Hope is playing the charismatic politician’s private secretary and the man responsible for employing Gunther Guillame who turned out to be an East German spy.

“The idea was for the party to employ an ordinary man in the street to show they were trying to get away from the usuallawyers and politicans by reaching the grassroots,” explains Hope.

“Brandt doesn’t like Guillame for a lot of the play but gradually he is given more and more responsibility and, unbenown to my character, he is working for East Germany. The audience knows from the off but the people in the play don’t.”

By the time the scandal erupted, Ehmke had gone from running the chancellor’s office to the ministry of posts.

“It was a demotion, from being at the hub he was out in the cold at a minor ministry.”

One reason Hope has some sympathy for his character is that it becomes clear that Brandt knew without telling him that Guillame had been under suspicion for a year.

“The amount of information coming out about who knew what, for me is interesting. Frayn must have guessed a lot but he has based it on conversations with people in the know.”

Hope is coming new to both the Crucible and the play.

“When I heard the title Democracy, I thought is that going to be a play about eight men in suits but it’s not, it’s a thriller.

“He’s managed to write it in such a way so it is a complete flow of action, but some of it is in flashback, some of it is in the present, some of it is reported so you as an audience are getting more and more information as the play goes on. And you see how the whole event happens and then at the end you see the fall of East Germany.”

Hope is an admirer of the work of Michael Frayn, having previously appeared in two of his plays, Donkeys Years and Noises Off, and it seems the feeling is mutual since the writer apparently recommended him to director Paul Miller.

Before Democracy he was filming with Michael Caine, he reveals casually. “It’s called Mr Morgan’s Last Love and I play an American philatelist. I got a couple of nice scenes and it was filmed in Paris with only three English actors in it.”

Prior to that he was at the National Theatre, having spent spent the previous year in the musical, Dirty Dancing, in the West End. “I had to sing and I had to dance, things I had never done before,” he says.

It’s a neat snapshot of the sheer variety of his career. “I am a character actor and have worked with a whole variety of companies, European and English,” says Hope, from the experimental (Complicite) and the surreal (Ken Campbell) in theatre to mainstream TV from soaps to the green-headed alien Malohkeh in Dr Who.

“My first TV job was with Laurence Olivier,” he recalls. “Buffet lunch and maid service: I thought this looks very nice, I should do more TV.

“I was so naïve and thought this is what it’s all about and he looked after me really and he put me up for Brideshead Revisted in which I played Hooper, the young lieutenant you see at the beginning and the end.

“I have done everything from Horatio in Hamlet at the National to that stamp collector, a small part of two scenes with Michael Caine.”

Hope puts his long-lasting career down to “a willingness to lead and to follow.

“Olivier told me the trick was to work with good people and the other tip was to turn up on time and know your lines.

“So many people don’t do that now, especially on films, they think it’s fashionable to turn up and mumble. People do it and get away with it and are magnificent.

“I turn up knowing it and try and offer something on the day, whereas in theatre it evolves in the rehearsal room with a group of people.”

Democracy continues at the Crucible Theatre until March 24.