Willy Brandt was a German left-wing politician whose life was filled with drama. Working with the Resistance during the Nazi regime, he fled Germany—living in numerous countries—before returning to embark on a remarkable political career. His policies caused worldwide ripples, earning him the respect of both the people and other world leaders. He was named Time Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ in 1970, and in 1971 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Born Karl Herbert Frahm on 18 December 1913, Brandt seemed destined for a political life from the beginning. His political awareness was activated by his grandfather, leading him to have left-wing views that opposed the political culture that was dominating Germany. He would join the Social Democratic Party (SDP) but would leave a year later, joining instead the Socialist Workers Party in protest to the SDP’s compromises with the Nazis.
He travelled internationally, usually taking up leftist causes, and would eventually be forced to flee to Norway, where he increased his political activities. He worked as a journalist— under the name ‘Willy Brandt’. In 1936 he returned to Germany to help support a doomed Resistance plot to undermine the Nazis. His German citizenship was revoked in 1938, and when Hitler invaded Norway in 1940 he fled again—this time to Sweden, where he worked as a writer and as a lecturer.
Michael Cox: Let’s talk about Democracy. Had you heard of the play before?
Colin McCredie: No, I hadn’t heard of it. I hadn’t seen it, so obviously that’s quite good, coming to it fresh. I’d been interested in the recent Deutschland 83 and I’d watched Bridge of Spies—the Spielberg film last year—as well. After watching those I’d looked up a few articles on the East/West German spy thing. It was a period I was quite interested in.
It’s just amazing that, in your lifetime—25 years ago—these changes all happened. It’s almost like a parallel universe: the Wall, the Eastern and Western Block, Berlin being split in two. I’ve been to Berlin since the Wall came down. It’s mental that this happened. And the drama within all that, the politics, are really interesting. It makes for a really good drama.
In the classic Scottish play The Steamie the characters compare the experience of the community gathering on the green to dry their washing to the prospect of having your own washing machines in your own house. The young character is looking forward to having her own machine – as she would never have to leave her house, whilst the others lament the passing of the idea of “community”, illustrated by everyone gathering on the green.
To me theatre and in particular touring theatre is essential to create and nurture that sense of community and its sense of community that we desperately need in this increasingly fractured world. We live in a world where arguably people spend more time on their phones than engaging directly with each other, and in a world where people feel isolated and that they have no one to relate to or engage with.
Theatre brings together a community, even just for one evening. It places complete strangers under one roof and compels them to engage, not just with each other but with the two hours traffic of the stage. It encourages them to see themselves not as individuals but as part of a bigger picture –it compels them to empathise with the emotional journey of the characters they are watching.
Taking theatre out beyond the main cities into smaller towns and villages encourages people to engage who may have been put off by the distance to or the ticket prices of the main city venues. In our next tour with Democracy you will see the same show whether you are going to the Theatre Royal in Glasgow or the Theatre Royal in Dumfries. You should have the same experience in The Kings in Edinburgh or The Village Theatre in East Kilbride --- in a sense we are ‘Democratising’ Theatre.
There is a view that touring theatre has lost its political heft and its energy since the days of the lauded 80’s and 90’s theatre companies: Wildcat, 7:84, Borderline etc. However touring theatre, I feel, is more needed now then ever, partly for the reasons above. It’s just that now, in the “Nachos and Netflix” culture, we have to work much harder to draw people away from their laptops and into the theatre.
The days of the ‘out of the back of the van, rough and ready, two planks and a passion theatre’ perhaps have given way to a theatre that has to be sophisticated but accessible, nuanced but entertaining, challenging but satisfying, intellectual but unpretentious. When people can stream the latest high quality drama to their phones or binge on box sets of classic series –we have to offer them something they wont get on their laptop; Theatre that is not just the same high quality drama they can receive on their phone, but that it has the one crucial ‘ingredient’ that a million downloads won’t have –its live and its happening now in front of them. That energy and rapture of live performance can be intoxicating and creates a sense of a community coming together and sharing the same life affirming experience.