The play is set in the West Germany of the late '60s and early '70s, after Willy Brandt ("Villy," as the Germans call him) has been elected chancellor, the first leader from the left to achieve that station in nearly 40 years. James Naughton plays Brandt, known for a charisma, political bravery and seeming ethical purity which created a sort of cult of personality around him. He was also known, however, for his philandering, heavy drinking, fits of depression and an inability to make decisions.
Brandt was brought down by his seemingly trustworthy personal assistant, Günter Guillaume, who, though he came to admire and love his boss, was in secret an East German spy.
Richard Thomas plays Guilliaume, in eye-shadowing eyeglasses. He also acts as narrator, telling the story of Brandt's rise and fall (apparently, from prison) to his East German contact in Bonn, played by Michael Cumpsty. The action begins with Brandt's election by a razor-thin margin and ends around the time the Berlin Wall fell.
Playing a variety of duplicitous politicians are Robert Proskey as Wehner, Terry Beaver (Reinhard Wilke), John Dossett (Helmut Schmidt), Julian Gamble (Ulrich Bauhaus), John Christopher Jones (Hans-Dietrich Genscher) , Richard Masur (Horst Ehmke) and Lee Wilkof (Günther Nollau).
Michael Blakemore, who directed in England, repeats his work, which reunited him with his Copenhagen playwright. The latter play won the 2000 Tony Award for Best Play and Best Director. Set design is by Peter J. Davison, costume design by Sue Wilmington, lighting design by Mark Henderson and sound design by Neil Alexander.
The play opened to raves at the National's Cottesloe Theatre in August 2003, where it won the 2003 Evening Standard Award for Best Play, the 2003 Critics' Circle Award for Best Play and the 2003 South Bank Award for Best Play. The production then reopened in London's West End at Wyndhams Theatre.
James Naughton, most recently on Broadway in the short-lived Prymate, won his first Tony Award in 1990 for his performance in Cy Coleman's City of Angels and his second for his work in the revival of Chicago.
On Broadway Richard Thomas has been seen in Love Letters, The Front Page, Fifth of July, Everything in the Garden, The Playroom, Strange Interlude and Sunrise at Campobello. He recently took part in the Kennedy Center's celebration of Tennessee Williams starring in the solo show Letters from Tennessee: A Distant Country Called Youth. Thomas, however, is best known for his Emmy-winning work on TV's "The Waltons."