Michael Frayn’s political thriller is a tale of secrets, deceit and lies that explores the Machiavellian nature of coalition government. We caught up with its cast – Aidan McArdle (who plays Günter Guillaume), Patrick Drury (Willy Brandt), Richard Hope (Horst Ehmke) and Rupert Vansittart (Hans-Dietrich Genscher) – to discover more about the men, the show and who they’d have in their ideal Cabinet.
Describe your character in six words.
McArdle: Obsequious, chirpy, industrious, diligent, cunning, sensitive.
Drury: Visionary, moderator, depressive, determined, outside, vacillator.
Hope: Dynamic academic who was too trusting.
Vansittart: Clever, precise, ambitious, driven, staid, lawyer.
Which political figure in history do you admire?
McArdle: Michael Collins. It is possible that the South of Ireland might have been a more tolerant place and the Catholic Church wouldn’t have had such a power base, which defined the next 50 years of Irish history.
Drury: I suppose Franklin D Roosevelt is closest to being a humane and enlightened President in hard times.
Hope: William Pitt. The youngest ever MP and Prime Minister who managed reform and improved the country.
Vansittart: David Lloyd George. Dynamic, charismatic Welsh liberal party leader who not only helped us win World War One but also helped lay down the foundations of the modern welfare state.
Democracy is a fictional play but based on fact. Which historical or political event would you most like to be in a play about?
McArdle: The hoax and subsequent death of Donald Crowhurst when he was competing to be the first yatchsman to solo circumnavigate the world. A profoundly sad and powerful story.
Drury: Events surrounding the Treaty of Versailles. It explains so much about power struggles and future problems in Europe.
Hope: The Battle of Waterloo. A near run thing – against the odds the British won.
Vansittart: 10:00 to midday on 11 November 1918, the hour before and after the 11:00 ceasefire in World War One. In some sectors fighting went on right up to 11:00 then stopped. What must that have been like?
Which governmental secrets would you most like to find out about?
McArdle: If they are secret how could I possibly know if I’d want to find out about them?
Drury: What information is given to the public, what is not and why not? Who decides? For example, money wasted on a mass scale, army, banks, NHS reforms etc.
Hope: Where all the secret sites of Ministry of Defence things happen. I wonder how they are justified. Tunnels and bunkers, secrets and sinecures, live and loves of the underworld.
Vansittart: Why Tony Blair really took us to war in Iraq, and, generally, just what the hell’s going on? Does anyone know? If so, they’re not telling me.
If you were Prime Minister, which six people (dead or alive) would you have in your Cabinet?
McArdle: I would pick six geniuses and we would vote on policy after each one of them had given their opinion on each particular subject – Shakespeare, Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Einstein, Jesus and John Lennon to keep us honest!
Drury: Richard Crossman, Nye Bevan, Winston Churchill as Defence Minister, Barbara Castle, Ernest Bevin and Clement Attlee. Full of ideas I could capitalise on and fight for social justice.
Hope: Tolstoy as reformer and literary advisor; Brunel for engineering; Marianne Faithfull for arts and culture; Dr Who for future planning; Vivien Leigh as my Scarlett O’Hara – she didn’t give a dam; Peter Andre – so he could make a song or a TV show about it.
Vansittart: My two daughters and four of their friends because they just seem to be so much brighter and better than we ever were, and certainly better than any politician I’ve ever met.
How will you be spending your days during the run?
McArdle: The school run, walking the dog and working on my next project.
Drury: Conserving energy – gardening.
Hope: Rehearsing King Lear at the Almeida.
Vansittart: Family stuff, household chores, accounts, walking the new puppy and, above all, long leisurely breakfasts that could take all morning.
What is your favourite moment during the show?
McArdle: When Brandt and Guillaume are on holiday and they are both spying on each other. It’s beautifully written.
Drury: Kneeling at the Warsaw monument.
Hope: The end – all the lines come so fast, I have to learn to listen better! By the end I’m attuned and ready to begin.
Vansittart: At the end of the play Günther returns to the cabinet table and, out of the corner of his eye, watches Brandt being edged into resignation. My part is done and I can just enjoy this great bit of drama.