BACK in the late Sixties and early Seventies Willy Brandt was a major figure on the world stage and it is probably true to say that he remains the most recognisable German politician in the post-war period. And yet he disappeared pretty rapidly from the world stage.,
Michael Frayn’s Democracy tells us why. In 1974 the popular Chancellor of West Germany was forced to resign after his closest aide was revealed to be an East German spy.
Democracy, written in 2003 and seen as a companion piece to Copenhagen in dealing with a real event in European history, explores the relationship between Brandt and Guillame the spy.
Patrick Drury, who is playing him in the production in the Crucible Main House which starts previewing this week, likens him to his contemporary, President Kennedy,
“I think his and JFK’s identities merged a little bit,” he says. “I think both of them were past masters at manipulating the media and public appeal they were both highly charismatic, rather sexy men, actually.
“He was a man of his time and had the sort of charisma of a rock star, which is referred to in the play, and very, very attractive to women. There is something very irresistible about what he promised and so women threw themselves at him.”
The timescale of the play is 1969 when he was voted into office as Chancellor of the Federal Republic and goes through the next five years until he fell from power in 1974 having been re-elected in 1972.
“He was a man who struggled for power all his life and for him it was a great tragedy when he lost power and he took it very, very badly.
“Guillame was very much at the heart of his fall from power because to have an East German spy at the heart of the West German cabinet was absolutely scandalous. Once that was found out – it was suspected for some time – Brandt’s downfall wasn’t inevitable but it was tied up with a sexual scandal and the two together saw him off. But Willy Brandt at the end of his career was still bitter about it and convinced he didn’t have to resign and could possibly have survived.”
The actor most recognisable as the squabbling shopkeeper Mr O’Leary from Father Ted who spent the whole of 2011 in The Woman in Black in the West End now finds himself playing a real person.
“In a sense you approach it almost like a fictional role but you are aware you are playing a historical character without necessarily feeling you are doing an imitation,” he says. “But you have to bear in mind Michael Frayn himself is inventing things. It’s an invention and a condensed idea of his idea of Brandt’s downfall which is tied up with personality and politics and the relationship with East Germany which was top of his political agenda.”
Democracy runs at the Crucible Theatre until March 23.