I suppose if I knew anything about the play going into the National Theatre it would have helped. And having arrived, if maybe I’d read the synopsis. Failing that, if I’d taken a modern European History course and known anything about Germany’s history between 1945 and 1989. I, however, had done none of the above and arrived at Democracy forced to piece together everything.
At the end of Act 1, I was a bit put out and annoyed. I think the writer assumed the audience would be stupid and he wrote for a stupid audience. Democracy is about a double agent working for the Chancellor in Germany in the early 1970’s. The main device used to explain the plot is keeping the agent’s handler in the wings, to receive documents and asides from the agent. So the agent is constantly in and out of the scene, talking to the Chancellor and then talking to his handler. But at the end of Act 2, I was hooked. It made sense. We did need the handler to guide us through the web of deceit and, at the same time, loyalty. To the party and to the man behind the party.
The stark set was amazing. A two story set with four desks on the main level and one on the second level. A spiral staircase joining the two levels. Each desk had a set of four shelves above it. Each set of shelves had different colored folders on it. One red. One yellow, blue, green. A light hardwood floor with white walls and 8 men in black suits. The lighting changed the set for the few scenes outside of the office and I appreciated the audience being forced to imagine the surroundings of the train, the crowds, the northern lights–than seeing it constructed poorly on stage.
Democracy wound up being a very powerful play, telling one story of the unification of Germany. There are countless other versions, but now I at least know one.
West Germany, 1969. Willy Brandt begins his brief but remarkable career as the first left-of-centre Chancellor for nearly forty years. Always present but rarely noticed is G