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United Players of Vancouver


by Michael Frayn

Director Adam Henderson Costume Catherine E. Carr Set Naomi Sider Lighting Darren W. Hales Sound Jeff Tymoschuk Stage Manager Laura Dodwell-Groves

Dates 2 - 25 June  2006   Venue Jericho Arts Centre Reviewer Jane Penistan

Graham Bullen & Greg Anderson; photo by Doug Williams

Democracy deals with political incidents in Germany in 1969–1974. During this period the North American newspapers were full of the misdeamours of Richard Nixon and Ronald Regan’s dealings with the Soviet Bloc. There was less attention paid by the Canadian press to political affairs in Europe.

For us, this play is an insight into the complexities of the divided East and West German governments, of which we were hardly aware. Suspicion and distrust permeate the play. The three parties of the coalition government are each in its own way trying to do the best for the good of the country, but members of each faction are jealous or suspicious of the others. There is personal ambition as well altruism and party loyalty in all the politicians and civil servants who appear on stage.

Adam Henderson has achieved a splendid rendition of this multilayered dialogue. All eleven men in the cast are well-defined characters and their roles in the development of the plot are clearly understood and thoughtfully portrayed.

The centre of the drama is Willy Brandt (Graham Bullen) the charismatic chancellor of West Germany, newly elected as the play opens. Gunther Guillaume (Greg Anderson) becomes an official member of his staff, as a liaison between the trades unions and the Bunderstag, but evolves into Brandt’s very personal assistant. Other members of the official chancellor’s staff as well as his coalition cabinet are suspicious of the willing, helpful Guillaume, even Willy Brandt himself, but no one is able to find him engaged in any nefarious dealings. His appointment to Brandt’s staff is the height of his ambition and he is determined to stay in office.

Political dealings with East Germany are still strained. The East, the satellite of the Soviet Union is obsessed with spying. Paranoia in the West is everyone’s failing.

The gradual erosion of the Brandt’s chancellorship is told through the play, with the always-difficult problem of democratic government by a coalition. Eventually, Guillaume is found guilty of espionage and sending information to his masters in the East. But, like some prisoners with their gaolers, Guillaume has a respect and affection for Brandt, and states that his betrayal was for the good of his country.

The production is spectacular. Henderson has backlighted screens behind the raised multitiered platform of the acting area. These screens also show series of news clips of what is happening in the streets of Berlin, with accompanying crowd noises and cheering. Occasionally there is the voice of an announcer. The use of these carefully chosen, pertinent, contemporary projections keep the audience informed of the atmosphere of the city of West Berlin, as the unfolding drama of the fall of Chancellor Willy Brandt is played out.

The standard of acting is very high. No individual cast members can be singled out for accolades as all were of the same excellence. Patrons of Jericho Arts Centre are accustomed to good performances, but this production is possibly the best performed and most engaging to be staged by this company. A wonderful finale to a most successful season.

© 2006 Jane Penistan