Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen examines the question of why theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg visited his mentor Niels Bohr in Nazi-occupied Denmark, recreating the infamous meeting that ended their friendship in the summer of 1941. Set against the backdrop of World War II, Copenhagen expounds upon the scientific theories of uncertainty and complementarity that were variously posited by Heisenberg and Bohr to generate themes of suspicion, trust and uncertainty between people.
Citing Frayn, director and producer Paul Knox comments that the three central characters of the play, Heisenberg, Bohr and his wife Margrethe, “cut straight to the heart of why the meeting between Bohr and Heisenberg was so critically important”. Copenhagen is a complex and layered play. It departs from speculation about the Bohr-Heisenberg meeting to expound upon the implications of atomic bombs and examines their historical consequences. As Knox notes, the meeting depicted in Copenhagen between Bohr and Heisenberg was not only important because of “physics, World War II [and] the atomic bomb” but also because it illustrated how uncertainty “surrounds everything we do” and “clouds our own understanding of why we make …decisions”. Accordingly, the motives and decisions of the characters are observed not only by the ever-present surveillance of British intelligence and the Gestapo, but also are interrogated by the omniscient shadow of the audience, who silently observe the exchanges between Heisenberg, Bohr and Margrethe.
Andrea McCannon and Matthew Kenny convincingly embody Margrethe and Niels Bohr, portraying an intimate dynamic around which the tension of the play orbits. Into this space enters Werner Heisenberg, played by Tristan Lutze, whose familiarity and hidden motives both comfort and repel. While the complex scientific material was predominantly well-handled by the ensemble, the momentum of the dialogue between Kenny and Lutze did falter on some occasions. Due to the dense philosophical content of the play, stricter adherence to staging conventions, such as the entry and exit of the actors onto the set, would have produced a more fluid and coherent production standard.
Despite some stumbling in the delivery of dialogue, PMD Productions’ presentation of Michael Frayn’s engaging and thought-provokingplay was deftly handled. Copenhagen is an intriguing examination of the philosophical implications following the discovery of quantum mechanics, and its contribution to pivotal historical events.
PMD Productions presents
by Michael Frayn
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran (Melways: Map 2L Ref J10)
Dates: 5 – 28 March
Times: Thurs – Sat 8pm, Sun 6pm; 2pm Matinee Sat 14 and 21 March
Tickets: $30 Full, $25 Con and Grps 10+ (+ transaction fee)
Bookings: 03 8290 7000 or www.chapeloffchapel.com.au