by Michael Frayn.
Lyceum Theatre 55 Norfolk Street S1 1DA To 10 March 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm & 8 March 2pm.
Audio-described/BSL Signed 8 March 7.45pm.
Captioned 10 March 3pm.
Post-show Discussion 5 March.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 0114 249 6000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 March.
New light on a fine play.
This is the fulcrum of Sheffield’s Michael Frayn season. The middle play in order of writing (from 1998), it holds in balance the personal relationships which are the surface focus of Benefactors with the political content of Democracy.
Built around a strange meeting in 1941 between two theoretical physicists, when the German Werner Heisenberg suddenly visited the Danish (and Jewish) Niels Bohr in Nazi-occupied Denmark, it’s actually set in the (to use another Frayn title) Afterlife. The two scientists, and their excited theorising and stresses, are offset by Bohr’s wife, Margrethe.
Wartime political divisions and anxieties are also contrasted with the happy young research days of the early twenties, when only life and hope lay ahead. The play’s own wonder is that, for its duration, the concepts of theoretical physics seem crystal-clear to the lay person in stalls or gallery.
David Grindley’s production is helped by Jonathan Fensom’s set, with its sense of a European mansion fallen into semi-disuse, yet open on two sides to the void. For this is both the Bohr’s home and a nebulous nowhere. Importantly, Grindley shows the play’s humanity, in moments of humour, through Barbara Flynn’s Margrethe, with her calming influence, yet also firm sense of right, and, vitally, in the pulses of friendship and individual pride in the German and Danish scientists.
While the science remains important, Grindley shows it as a means of binding minds parted by politics. Memory plays tricks with meaning, and multiple ambiguities contrast the men’s search to recover and sustain friendship as time loops and the non-realistic setting allows replays of the 1941 visit.
Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Heisenberg pictures the eager disciple and the scientist searching for the meaning of his failure to develop Hitler’s hydrogen bomb, his firmness contrasted by the more relaxed postures of Henry Goodman’s Bohr, who remains eager for truth and morally outraged at the Nazis.
Grindley has him circling the other two at times like an electron late for work. The end, though, is rest and near silence, in a fresh, inspiriting view of a fine play of science, truth and the value of friendship.
Margrethe: Barbara Flynn.
Bohr: Henry Goodman.
Heisenberg: Geoffrey Streatfeild.
Director: David Grindley.
Designer: Jonathan Fensom.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Assistant director: Sean Linnen.