Matt Williamson

Democracy

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Michael Frayn is a bit of a rarity: he writes both good novels and good plays. His backstage farce Noises Off has been playing to great reviews in the West End, while novels such as Spies have achieved widespread acclaim.

Now the Old Vic has revived Frayn's 2003 play Democracy. It's a political thriller - with the emphasis definitely on politics. The production tackles the true story of the relationship between 1970s West German chancellor Willy Brandt and Gunter Guillaume, a Stasi spy who infiltrated his inner circle and inadvertently caused Brandt's downfall. It can be a bit heavy going at times, but it's worth it. This is a gripping espionage thriller that also serves as a timely meditation on modern politics.

The House of Bernarda Alba

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Almeida Theatre

Written shortly before his murder by fascists during the Spanish Civil War, The House of Bernarda Alba is the last and most powerful of Lorca's plays. In a new production for the Almeida Theatre, this story of repression and resistance has been transposed to rural Iran. Unfortunately, I couldn't help feeling that much of the original play's complexity has been lost in this adaptation. The translation is more or less line by line. As a result, the dialogue often has a painfully stilted feel to it. This undermines Lorca's poetry and his politics.

Blood and Gifts

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National Theatre, Until 2 November

J T Rogers's Blood and Gifts was initially presented in shortened form as part of the Tricycle Theatre's The Great Game season and has now been expanded into a full-length production for the National Theatre. Set between 1981 and 1991, the play shows how US and British efforts to combat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan led them to promote, fund and arm Islamic resistance movements within the country. As such, it is a timely reminder of the extent to which the problems that Western imperialism is now facing are of its own creation.

Welcome to Thebes

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Writer: Moira Buffini; National Theatre

Moira Buffini's Welcome to Thebes draws its inspiration from two very different sources. She combines ancient Greek mythology with modern politics. Athens becomes a global superpower, with Thebes a wartorn country reminiscent of Liberia. The result is hugely effective. Buffini is not content simply to retell old stories with modern clothes and a few swear words. She uses a mythical setting to tackle issues of race, gender and international relations. In doing so, she has created a compelling piece of political theatre.

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