Time for a Snooze: Michael Frayn's Democracy at The Old Vic
There are times when I'm glad to take notes - it helps to keep me awake when a play, film or talk is dull or when the venue is overheated. No such excuse with this one, and no note-taking required as I'd been offered cheap tickets at the last minute.
I didn't have high expectations, it's true, because political plays are my least favourite genre, but at The Old Vic last Saturday I slept through much of a very boring play.
Any doubts I'd had were softened by a positive view of the author's previous form. I know his comedy 'Noises Off' is highly praised for its current run in the West End, and I want to see it; last year I was entertained on a long drive to Wales by an audio tape of Frayn's comic crime novel, Headlong, about the theft of a painting. I remember reading his funny column in The Observer newspaper a while back.
This work seemed to defy all the obvious rules about theatre -except Greek drama's rule that the action must take place off-stage.
Frayn sets his play in Bonn, where twelve middle-aged men in suits, stand or sit in an office which occasionally converts to a first class train carriage. They talk and occasionally declaim. One of the main characters is Willi Brandt, (Patrick Drury) Chancellor of West Germany, paving the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall. The other is a Stasi spy reporting back to his controller in East Germany . The controller is onstage, which serves two purposes. He's much younger and has a sixties hair-cut, so that's some visual variety, and it allows the mole, Gunter Guillaume, (Ed Hughes) a mildly comic figure, to give him a live commentary on the action. The others have names like Horst and Herbert and Helmut but it's hard to know which is which.
I learned a lot about German politics 1969-1974 from the programme, which is like a small text-book, with illustrations and a time-line. It wouldn't be fair to write more, as I was asleep. The air-conditioning in the Old Vic was working fine; nothing to do with that.
Democracy by Michael Fryan continues at The Old Vic until July 28th