LOUIS SHANKAR is left very uncertain about this play about two of the twentieth century’s greatest scientists

copenhagen Theatre

7 PM, Corpus Playroom, October 14th-18th, £6/5

Copenhagen is a fantastic play, without a doubt. Why it won so many awards is clear. It examines the 1941 meeting of the physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in (unsurprisingly) Copenhagen, looking back from an afterlife and reimagining the encounter several times.

The play tackles complex, serious issues: developments in theoretical physics, the development of the nuclear bomb, the Second World War.

As an arts student, the science did baffle me at points. I kept expecting Heisenberg to produce blue crystal meth and yell, “Say my name!” I soon discovered (not entirely through Wikipedia) that he was also an early pioneer of quantum mechanics and the developer of the uncertainty principle.

However, the script generally does a fantastic job at breaking down these principles into sizeable, understandable chunks.

As a production, though, I found Copenhagen significantly more problematic. The combination of flashbacks, narrative passages and overlapping conversations was messy and hard to follow. Even though this seemed to be deliberate, too often it felt confused rather than considered. But sometimes it did work really well.

The cast all gave strong performances, especially Kay Dent as Margrethe Bohr. However, she was far superior as a sarcastic devil’s advocate than the loving wife, in a role that required both. Similarly, Tom Stuchfield and James Hancock-Evans were both better as antagonists than friends, more confident with the high drama than the comedy.

The relationships amongst the cast were, at times, inconsistent and superficial, although every now and then they managed to hit the nail on the head.

The set and lighting also divided my opinion. A desk at the centre of what looked like both a target and a series of electron shells was a genius piece of set design ruined by aged purposeless pieces of paper clipped to the walls.

Occasionally, a combination of sound and flickering lights was used to devastating effect, but sparsely. Overuse may have meant this effect was lost, but perhaps this was a risk worth taking.

Science and stuff

The play did seem to drag slightly. At two hours long with only a five minute interval and a lot to pay attention to, I found myself starting to drift off. I’m pretty sure the person next to me actually had a nap in the middle.

Overall, I left the Corpus Playrooms very uncertain about what I thought. Part of me wanted to give the play four stars: it was very good, I was kind of impressed, but it definitely needed some work. At the same time, I wanted to give it two stars as I felt distinctly unsatisfied and quite confused.

Ultimately, you’ll have to go for yourself.

Currently, I don’t know whether it was fantastic or disappointing. But, when you see it for yourself, the act of observation will mean it will cease to be both. Or something science-y like that.