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.
- Colleen Patterson