In 1941, German physicist Werner Heisenberg visited his friend and
mentor, Niels Bohr, in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen. No one knows what was
said on the occasion, but it caused a rift between the two scientists
that never fully mended. Michael Frayn’s
celebrated play takes this real-life event as its inspiration.
Heisenberg, Bohr and his wife Margrethe speak from the afterlife,
drafting and redrafting the events and trying to discover what happened
on that night in Copenhagen.
From the moment one enters the auditorium it’s clear that Copenhagen is going to be an intellectual exercise. The imaginative, conceptual set, designed by Neil Murray,
is the backdrop for a disjointed narrative which mixes historical
events, complex relationships and theoretical physics. Bohr and
Heisenberg are at times father and son, equal collaborators, or
competitors in the race to develop an atomic bomb. The great irony of
their competition is, of course, who has won- the man who achieved the
physics necessary to drop the bomb, or the man who failed but has no
blood on his hands?
Michael Frayn’s script is perfectly constructed and Tom Mannion, Owen Oakeshott and Sally Edwards
balance very well as the Bohr, Heisenberg and Margrethe. The only flaw
in the Lyceum’s production is that the staging is perhaps a bit
uninspired - more dynamic, visually interesting movement would have
allowed Frayn’s words to take on a more imaginative life of their own.
Here, they can sometimes come off as stale or too-technical. However,
the script holds together like a perfectly stable atom. For anyone
interested in physics or history, or just wishing to revel in the
language of a wonderfully well-written play, Copenhagen is definitely worth a visit.