IT’S not often you feel sorry for a spy but Aidan McArdle’s canny portrayal of Gunther Guillaume in the Crucible’s Democracy prompts curious reaction.
“You’ve got to rely on how Michael Frayn has framed the characters and he has written human beings,” says the Irish actor of a play centred on post war German Chancellor Willy Brant.
“Everybody’s argument for why they have done something has to hold water. They have to have a reason for doing something even if it’s appalling to somebody else. .
“Frayn writes characters who contain complexities so you can love somebody you’re betraying. It’s something Shakespeare does as well. They’re not just the villain or the idiot.”
Aidan turns in a strong performance as the shuffling snoop who rose to prominence in the 1966 coalition where his spying antics ultimately brought down a politician he respected.
“Gunther does hero worship Brandt and at the same time he is equally as loyal to his controller and east Germany.
“He’s very assiduously collecting every piece of information he can and giving it to his employers and the weirdness of that is they want Brandt to stay in office because he’s the one opening the pathways.
“He has a rapid rise from obscurity to becoming important to Brandt and therefore dangerous. He’s a servile character who by pure chance gets in with Brandt and gets asked to work with the chancellory and Brandt becomes Chancellor.
“Almost by making himself indispensable to everybody, by being the general dogsbody and working every hour god sends, he sort of inveigles himself in the middle of all these intellectuals and becomes part of the furniture and accidentally becomes very close to Willy, is his right hand man and his PA.
“He was like nobody. You wouldn’t notice him come in the room. That’s what one of Brandt’s friends said about him. And I think he was like that on purpose.”
Aidan, who appeared in The National’s A Prayer For Owen Meanie and played the dad in the film Killing Bono, admits to admiring and being frustrated by Frayn’s talent for transforming history into drama.
“The amount of information he has filtered to turn it into something which is very dramatic is quite extraordinary. It’s quite annoying really, someone has an intellect like that, because you’re made to feel stupid. There’s no such thing as a definitive history and what Frayn does is a really interesting dramatic thesis, makes it understandable for people like me who haven’t a clue.
“It’s not The Bourne Identity, as much as I want that, and the play isn’t a spy story or about a person who betrayed another person. It’s about how you can almost live on two separate plains and the two aren’t necessarily against each other. And it’s about the complexity of being human, really.
“Frayn’s such a clever writer; he shifts tense so you’re talking about something in the past and then suddenly you’re in the present and you’re never quite sure where time is.”
Democracy concludes Saturday.