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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Watermill - Copenhagen

21st September to 22nd October 2005.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Principled drama

Copenhagen, at The Watermill, until October 22

Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, written in 1998, is a modern masterpiece, supremely crafted, and riveting in its central debate. It is also a work that demands intense concentration from the audience. This devotion to the argument ought not deter theatregoers from rushing to The Watermill for this excellent revival.

Frayn asks the question that many historians have pondered: just why did physicist Werner Heisenberg, the man leading the German team trying to develop their atomic bomb, meet his former mentor, the half-Jewish Dane, Niels Bohr, in Copenhagen in 1941?

Was he trying to discover how far advanced the Americans were? Was he warning Bohr about the Nazi programme? Was he trying to save Bohr's life? Was it a social visit? Were there other motivations?

Frayn's use of the scientific theories dazzles and astounds when they are employed as theatrical metaphors for uncovering the conflicting intentions of these two Nobel Prize-winning friends. One fact is certain: the Americans obtained the atomic bomb while the Nazis failed. Frayn asks whether this failure was by Heisenberg's design or caused by a design-flaw in his theorising.

Director Heather Davies has cast this production strongly. The dualities inherent in the play's structure are captured strongly in the performances of David Acton as the urbane, constantly smiling Bohr, and David Annen's reticent, troubled Heisenberg.

While these two ensure that the dialectic is convincing, Jane Bertish as Bohr's practical, direct wife Margrethe radiates a human touch, pricking the pomposity of the two men.

As the debate goes round in ever increasing circles of uncertainty, so the characters prowl around Isla Shaw's appropriately circular set.

When the search for truth enters its final stage, there is a powerful pull on the audience's emotions. Tears or laughter? Like the uncertainty principle that underpins the story, Frayn has left triggers for both.

There is a devastating message of ultimate earthly doom, where even the ghosts are destroyed, brought about by the thought processes of these two academic men. There is also hope that in the darkest of times, a saviour can emerge from the most unlikely of sources.


From Kick FM.

Michael Frayn’s play is about a visit by top German scientist Werner Heisenberg to his old professor, Niels Bohr in Copenhagen during the war when it is occupied by Germany. By giving three ‘takes’ of the meeting, the play peels away some of the layers of confusion: What was the purpose of the meeting? What actually happened in the meeting, and What were the consequences? It’s an intriguing but wordy play, and inevitably some of the dialogue is concerned with theoretical physics. But don’t be put off by that – there are some programme notes to help! It’s definitely worth seeing, not least for the excellent performances from the three actors, especially David Acton as Niels Bohr. He has to balance his affinity for Heisenberg, as an old friend and respected scientific colleague, with his revulsion at what the Germans are doing to his country, and Heisenberg’s involvement in it, and the possible consequences of Germany getting an atomic bomb. It’s not an easy play for the audience, but if you’re looking for a thought-provoking challenge, this is it.