What happens when one of the most pivotal moments in history is split apart? In a tight and uncompromising space, Pete Skidmore’s production of Copenhagen puts a—sometimes smiling, often troubled—human face to scientific revelations, which shaped and shattered the 20th Century.
Michael Frayn’s Tony Award-winning dramatisation of a meeting between Danish physicist Niels Bohr (James Hancock-Evans) and his problematic German prodigy Werner Heisenberg (Tom Stuchfield) in the midst of Word War 2 is a potentially difficult choice for any production team. Frayn’s dialogue is challenging, copious and contains more names, dates and complicated theories than the average supervision essay. However the production is able to leave non-scientists, at least the ones who get dazed by the behaviour of neutrons, beleaguered by the simple phrase “October, 1941”.
The three performers bring Frayn’s highly-charged unpacking of atoms, politics and ski-trips to life with a sustained commitment and vitality. Kay Dent’s simmering portrayal of Bohr’s wife Margrethe is excellently paced; her moments of restraint and outburst are artfully chosen to carry weight and impact. Stuchfield’s shaking hands as Heisenberg prove heartbreakingly expressive—although, some may argue this is to the point of distraction. Perhaps appropriately in a play about explosive reactions, the actors excel in moments of fast-paced, responsive interaction; Bohr and Heisenberg’s animated discussion of tackling a ski-slope in ten minutes—Heisenberg insists it was eight!— being a personal favourite. This may be at the expense of some of ‘Copenhagen’s’ more ethereal elements which appear a little stilted by comparison. Notably, some of the very first establishing lines, “Now that we are all dead and gone”, could still do more to pull the audience into the plagued, restless afterlife echoed by Elisabet Lindgren’s haunting set.
A few slickly-covered, first-night stumbles and some inconsistent lighting choices aside, Copenhagen at The Corpus Playroom is an engaging production which gives vigour, tenderness and proximity to material that may well have overwhelmed a less-able team. It’s a play about war, physics, fractious family friendships, duty, mathematics and memory. Fundamentally it’s a play for everyone because, most of all, it is a play about people.
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'Copenhagen' is playing at the Corpus Playroom at 7.00 pm until Saturday. Get your tickets online at https://www.corpusplayroom.com/whats-on/drama/copenhagen.aspx