FROM grand-standing in a Georgian courtroom as the cynical prosecutor John Silvester in Garrow’s Law, Aidan McArdle is bringing a quiet cunning to the Crucible stage with his portrayal of an East German spy.
Michael Frayn’s Democracy is inspired by the story of how West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s career was destroyed when it was revealed his aide, Gunther Guillame, had been passing secrets back to the East for years.
“It’s a sort of memory play through his viewpoint and he is like an everyman figure and that’s almost his function in the play to maybe recognise the greatness of others,” observes the actor. “Because it’s Michael Frayn it’s much more complex because he is so brilliant at portraying human beings. There are all sorts of paradoxes because Guillame hero-worshipped Willy Brandt and it was almost accidental he got into the position of trust and he was the most assidous servant to them.
“When he served Willy he did as well as he could and at the same time everything was going out – there is a comic element in that but it’s a very tough ask for him.”
Guillame and his wife slipped into the West before the Berlin Wall was erected and were installed as sleepers in the party offices of the SDP.
“When the SDP get elected he is suddenly called in to work as a dogsbody above the Chancellor’s office so his job then is to make himself useful to do every menial job possible to inveigle himself in and become part of the staff there and then from in there he is inside the office.
“I think he was very effective at being understimated and not noticed, I am sure he played that up,” says McArdle. “There is a documentary made several years after and he looks nothing like he did in the pictures at the time where you go, ‘oh spot the spy!’ Hilariously he is wrong looking, how did they not spot it? Then in that interview there is nothing buffoon like about him.”
An Irishman playing an East German on the English stage means he will adopt a nondescript accent. But then it’s rare for him to be heard in his natural Dublin brogue - other high profile roles include playing Dudley Moore in the TV film Not Only But Always (with Rhys Ifans as Peter Cook), the poet Sheridan in movie The Duchess and BBC comedy series Beautiful People - but it doesn’t worry him. “I like not doing things in my accent, I love to have something to work on. Sometimes it can be harder to do if it’s an Irish accent,” he says although he admits to having a nice sideline in voiceovers on TV adverts for Irish television.
Since the demise of Garrow’s Law after three series – “They murdered Garrow and his law” – McArdle appeared in School for Scandal at the Barbican and has been completing a short film he has directed, roping in actor chums Rupert Graves and Kate Ashfield.
“We did it in a flurry of activity in two months and now we have it in the can. Half of it is animated so you can imagine there are a lot of complications in trying to liaise with and animation company. I did it as a kind of film school for myself and then you think what am I thinking of?”
And here he is working in Sheffield for the first time. “This run at the Crucible is not too long to be away from the kids,” he says.
He is married to Heartbeat and Holby City actress Aislin McGuckin (they met at the RSC when McArdle’s Richard III murdered her Lady Anne each night) and they have two young children, aged five and a half and 19 months.
Democracy runs at the Crucible Theatre until March 31.