by Michael Frayn.
Crucible Theatre 55 Norfolk Street S1 1DA To 31 March 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 22 March.
BSL Signed 27 March.
Post-show Discussion 22 March.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0114 249 6000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 March.
Intrigue and no love lost in play of politics.
Sheffield’s valuable Michael Frayn season concludes with the most recent of the three plays on show, his 2003 look at West German politics when Willy Brandt was Chancellor (1969-74), controversially seeking to improve relations between capitalist West Germany and the Communist East.
The third play with a one word, four syllable title, its cast is nearly double those of Benefactors and Copenhagen combined, but reflects the political make-up of the time in having no women. Such facts might have been noted by Gunther Guillaume, who became Brandt’s aide, despite the distrust of other high-ranking officials.
Who were right; Guillaume was an East German spy – all three plays share an interest in treachery. Yet the situation also has a neat Frayn irony. Guillaume might have uncovered his boss’s political and sexual adventures. But it was in the East’s interest that Brandt should stay in power. The more effective treachery comes from the pin-striped power-play of Brandt’s own government. Which, ironically, made Guillaume’s unmasking the cause of the Chancellor’s fall from power.
A play on a scale unlikely to make for frequent staging, it’s well worth seeing, though Paul Miller’s production doesn’t have the sparkle of its companions. The Crucible’s thrust stage is awkwardly used by designer Simon Daw. Around an empty central diamond-shape, where most action happens, are various offices where characters sometimes sit, but which are generally low-lit and underused.
Perhaps the idea is that politics often brews in secret spaces, but it seems a parallel comment rather than something essential to a script which moves freely between scenes. And the production seems uncertain whether a side-strip of stage, barely carpeted, is to represent the East German austerity of Guillaume’s contact, who in any case spends most of his time in the West.
Aidan McArdle’s Guillaume makes an impact from the early moment he steps out of line to speak to the audience. Other performances are adequate but quite a number carry a sense of strain. Yet it’s an intriguing play in more than one sense, especially when, in the second act, story and production take a firmer hold.
Günther Guillaume: Aidan McArdle.
Arno Kretschmann: Ed Hughes.
Willy Brandt: Patrick Drury.
Horst Ehmke: Richard Hope.
Reinhard Wilke Andrew Bridgmont.
Herbert Wehner: William Hoyland.
Helmut Schmidt: David Mallinson.
Hans-Dietrich Genscher: Rupert Vansittart.
Günther Nollau: David Cann.
Ulrich Bauhaus: James Quinn.
Director: Paul Miller.
Designer: Simon Daw.
Lighting: Mark Doubleday.
Sound: Ben Ringham and Max Ringham.
Assistant director: Alex Thorpe.