With the third play in the Michael Frayn season opening tonight, David Dunn meets one of its most familiar cast members
RICHARD Hope has one of those faces.
You know you’ve seen him around plenty of times, but you struggle to nail exactly where.
A quick glance down his list of TV, stage and film credits will have many kicking themselves as it reveals roles in some of the most memorable shows of the past 35 years.
Among them are Brideshead Revisited, Poirot, Silent Witness, Tipping The Velvet, EastEnders and a couple of shifts on the likes of Holby, Midsomer Murders and The Bill.
But there’s one role that brought him to the attention of kids, although you wouldn’t know it at first – when Richard played green-headed alien Malohkeh in Dr Who.
“I play a character who I thought was killed off,” recalls the mild-mannered actor, “but obviously audience research brings you back. You’re not meant to talk about that sort of thing but I haven’t disappeared so it’s quite nice.”
Richard is in the very different guise of Horst Ehmke in Frayn’s German political thriller Democracy.
It centres on the inspirational former German chancellor Willy Brandt, a charismatic leader who made history in post-war politics when he began to reunite Europe.
This gallant efforts hits brackish waters when a spy is discovered in his office, threatening his plans.
“This is a political drama but it is funny, and it is a thriller,” says Richard, playing Brandt’s private secretary, the man who employs Gunter Guillaume – the man with the suspicious motives.
“Horst naively never questions his work. He does the job well so he keeps promoting him. “The reason he gets Gunter initially is he is the man in the street, the ordinary voter because Horst thinks the party is full of lawyers, politicians, academics.
“That’s what I found attractive about this play; Frayn’s style is deceptively simple but very clear, and it is very detailed and littered within his script are clues for an audience.
“It’s about how easily we are all deceived. We all want to believe the best of people and sometimes it works for the better.”
Democracy is Richard’s third Frayn play – after success with Noises Off and Donkey’s Years – which was part of the attraction for clocking in at the Crucible and Paul Miller’s latest directorial shift for the venue.
“If you’re going to take European politics, well, Frayn’s chosen the German situation which was extremely interesting with the coalition and if we’re going to take democracy and how it works that was the moment it worked at its best, really, just before the Berlin Wall fell.
“And having chosen that he had to find the link with the spy and the element that brings. Who do you trust? In politics people don’t know who they trust. And they have to make allegiances on the flimsiest of ideas.
“Democracy is not a farce, it is a political drama but it’s not dry. It’s to do with how you work a coalition, how people work together.
“And the amazing ability Brandt had at that time to bring countries together. It had never happened before and it was Gorbachev there negotiating with him.
“We were not used to that form of government although now we’ve got a coalition the same as them, but on the continent they’ve had them for years.
“Also the power is immense. The difference between Germany and here, Germany is similar to America in once you’re in office basically you take over the entire office.”
Frayn was a journalist with The Guardian when Brandt was in power and word has it he was asked to stall on publishing some of what he learned in the country, such as the cash paid to repatriate people after the war.
In Democracy it is apparent the character of Gunter has been expanded, but the intrigue and the potential consequence remains the same.
“I just love working with Fryan. He is obviously a linguist,” says Richard.
“And things have come out since the play was written that he has proved to be right – you’re left thinking, as an audience, ‘so did they know more than they actually said?’
“It is like a Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, thing. How much did the East know about the West at the time?”
A Sheffield debut
SURPRISINGLY, for a prolific stage actor, Democracy represents Richard Hope’s theatre debut in Sheffield.
“I’ve often been asked to Sheffield and I’d always wanted to come, but I had young kids,” he says.
Richard swiftly reveals he already knew people on his arrival – for starters fellow cast members Aidan McCardle from Garrow’s Law (Gunter) and Patrick Drury (of Silent Witness and Inspector Morse fame, here playing Brandt) and director Paul Miller (director of True West and Hamlet in the Crucible).
Then there’s Lyndsey Turner who directed him in There Is A War at The National last year and was handling The Way Of The World in the Crucible as Democracy began rehearsals – the same time as Legally Blonde filled The Lyceum, starring Ray Quinn with whom Richard appeared in Dirty Dancing the musical for a year.
“I played Max who runs the club and I had to do my singing,” recalls Richard. “People know I will have a go at things.
“I like stuff I wouldn’t normally do. I never thought I’d do a musical.”
Having not gone the drama school route, Richard learned his craft mainly at The National, in London, starting out in the National Youth Theatre training with the likes of Richard Wilson, Ken Campbell and Jack Shepherd.
He struck lucky on one of his inaugural acting roles. “My first TV job was with Laurence Olivier and then he mentored me for a year.
“A really, really kind man, he was just a charming person. He said ‘Just work with good people – you’ll always look better if you’re working with people who will push you a little bit more’. I have and I’ve quietly slipped into people’s consciousness ever since.”