Frayn's 'Democracy' is voted off Broadway

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The Independent Culture

Praised by critics on both sides of the Atlantic, Michael Frayn's political drama Democracy was expected to enjoy a long run on Broadway and be a strong contender for a Tony award.

Praised by critics on both sides of the Atlantic, Michael Frayn's political drama Democracy was expected to enjoy a long run on Broadway and be a strong contender for a Tony award.

Instead, the production, first seen at the National Theatre in London in 2003, will close next week, more than two months ahead of schedule, after failing to cover its investment and earning a reputation for being "boring".

Observers suggested yesterday that the play, a thriller about the spy scandal that led to the downfall of West German chancellor Willy Brandt, became a victim of a decision to use an all-American cast instead of the British one. But Adrian Bryan-Brown, a spokesman for the New York producers, denied reports that the play had recovered little ofits initial £1.3m investment, stressing that the opposite was true: "The play has recouped most of what was laid out,'' he said. "It was very well received by critics and has been playing to pretty decent houses, but if you judge whether or not a play has been a success on whether it succeeds in getting all its money back, then Democracy does not qualify. But it will have played 190 performances, more than most serious plays on Broadway.''

In London, the play starred Roger Allam as Brandt and Conleth Hill as Gunter Guillaume, the spy. It earned rave reviews and ran for five months in late 2003 and early 2004 at the National before spending six months in the West End. It is still in repertory on the South Bank.

In transferring to Broadway, Frayn and producer Michael Blakemore believed the play would translate better by using American actors, with James Naughton as Brandt and Richard Thomas as the spy. When it opened in November, the play was well received by the critics, with the New York Post's Clive Barnes, giving it an A-plus as "theatre at its finest", and The New York Times called it a "gourmet's banquet" of a play, applauding its "sharp style and thrilling clarity".

But both critics expressed doubts about the casting and yesterday's New York Post quoted production sources as saying: "A significant part of the play's [London] success was the cast. We didn't appreciate that enough.''

At the same time, the response of audiences that the play was dull soon spread by word of mouth and box-office receipts faltered. The Post also quoted one Tony award voter as saying: "The play was boring."

Although the run was open-ended, the actors have contracts until the end of June. The play will close on 17 April. In London, the National Theatre did not wish to comment. An earlier Frayn play, Copenhagen , about nuclear physics, which won a Tony, made a profit of $2m and enjoyed a national tour.

Ironically, a special series of British plays, under the banner Brits off Broadway, is being staged in New York, designed to showcase productions which may not have moved from London.

They include Alan Ayckbourn's Private Fears in Public Places and the one-woman show, M ortal Ladies Possessed with Linda Marlowe and Unsuspecting Susan , with Celia Imrie, of Calendar Girls and Acorn Antiques .

FRAYN'S GREATEST HITS

ALPHABETICAL ORDER

It is set in a provincial newspaper library where chaos reflects the lives of its staff. First performed in London in 1975.

NOISES OFF

One of the most successful farces in post-war British theatre. Written in 1982, it is set behind the scenes of a mediocre touring production of an imaginary farce, revealing the backstage antics. It won prizes for best comedy at the Evening Standard awards, the Laurence Olivier awards and the American Tony Awards.

BENEFACTORS

Produced in 1984 at the Vaudeville Theatre, it is among Frayn's biggest hits. Spanning 15 years, the play charts the relationship between twp couples. It won best play in 1984 at the Evening Standard and Laurence Olivier awards.

COPENHAGEN

It explores a 1941 encounter between the the German physicist Werner Heisenberg and Dane Niels Böhr. Staged in London in 1998, It won the 1998 Evening Standard award for best play of the year and a Tony for best play in the US.

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