Boundary Players - Copenhagen
21st to 25th October 2014.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Exploring motive behind meeting
Boundary Players: Copenhagen, at the William Penney Theatre, Tadley, from Tuesday, October 21 to Saturday, October 25
This complex play by Michael Frayn focuses on the 1941 meeting in Denmark of German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his Danish colleague Niels Bohr.
The two men were old friends as well as experimental physicists and had studied together as early as 1924, in Germany. Their work together on quantum physics had revolutionised atomic physics in the 1920s but this was different; on the surface still close friends as well as colleagues, in 1941 Heisenberg was committed to helping Hitler and the war effort and Bohr was living in occupied Denmark, equally committed to advancing the allied war effort.
The play revolves around how much each man knew and understood about uranium fission being used for the construction of weapons. The only certain factor to emerge from this was the fact that due to his study before the war, Bohr, the older man, was able to contribute to the research and eventual construction of the atomic bomb that ended the war in Japan, when he escaped first to Sweden, then to the US.
Heavy stuff indeed. Made heavier really by Frayn making his play a re-run of the events by the spirits of the protagonists, Heisenberg, played with studied calm by Chris Nunn, Bohr, played with suitable agitation by Jamie Kilpatrick and his wife Margrethe, played by Sam Walker, with a determination to pin down the German regarding the real reasons for his visit in 1941.
By this time though, all are dead and their spirits revisit the conversations and falling outs that occurred at that time.
The play, long and wordy and a real test for the actors, worked well because director Michelle Middleditch provided a nice balance between the real, physical world, the Bohrs' home, and the spiritual world that the three characters moved around in a lot of the time.
Not many laughs here but it was a relief when, after a sudden, heated exchange, the Margrethe character broke the silence with 'tea, cake, anyone?'