In 1941 Werner Heisenberg, a leading figure in the Nazi nuclear programme, made a visit to his old friend and mentor, half-Jewish physicist Niels Bohr, in Copenhagen. This much is recorded for posterity, but the topic of their discussion remains contested by historians. In Copenhagen, Frayn redrafts the meeting like a scientific paper, leading the audience through a series of possibilities in search an unknowable truth. The lives of Heisenberg and of Niels and Margrethe Bohr are unravelled in front of us; their conflicting loyalties to friends, to family and to country are dissected. Just like the quantum particles they study, they must occupy two contradictory states simultaneously: friend and enemy; guest and danger to mankind; particle and wave. And throughout the play, the impossible and horrifying responsibility of deciding nuclear holocaust hangs over Bohr and Heisenberg. “From those two heads the future will emerge. Which cities will be destroyed, and which will survive. Who will die, and who will live.” All the audience can do is observe.
Lewis Owen on Heisenberg:
"When playing Heisenberg it is incredibly important to consider the way history remembers him. Whilst Heisenberg is now predominately remembered for his mathematics and insights into the field of quantum mechanics, for many years he was considered a guilty figure, owing to his involvement in the German atomic bomb programme. Frayn's play provides a much more nuanced examination of his character, particularly reflecting on the importance of the context of the impossible situation into which he was thrown. As a scientist, the role and responsibility that we have for the ethical implications of our research is under increasing scrutiny in today's society. Exploring this real case example of two extraordinary icons of physics and the intersection between the worlds of research, moral responsibility and social context is both fascinating and challenging."
Tom Greig on Bohr:
"Playing the role of Niels Bohr offers many nuanced challenges, not least the difficulty of interpreting what was a real human being in history, yet one whom the author freely admits he has taken artistic liberties with. You are given a silhouette, and have to do all the filling out yourself. Yet this is a thoroughly engaging process, finding the balance with a man who was as much a physicist as a philosopher: undoubtedly one on the intellectual giants of the 20th century, and a man who lived on the nourishment of pure intellectual endeavour. To step into such a man's shoes is undeniably thrilling, not only in the moments of scientific epiphany, but also in the love that comes out in the lighting-fast reminiscences he and Heisenberg share with each other, as well as some subtly touching moments that surface with Margrethe, with whom he describes himself as 'a mathematically curious entity: not one, but half of two’."
The show’s directors, Jenny Lazarus and Ben Owen say of the production: “Copenhagen is such an enjoyable challenge from a director's point of view because of the liberty that Frayn gives us to decide things for ourselves. One of the difficulties of directing Copenhagen is the sheer minimalism of the production. With a cast of three and very little set, you don't have anywhere to hide, you can't afford to let the performance drop, even for a moment. Our fantastic cast, however, have more than risen to the challenge!”
‘Copenhagen’ runs from Sunday 5th to Tuesday 7th November at 7:45pm in the Robinson College Auditorium. Tickets are only £8 (£6 concession) and can be purchased online: https://brickhouse.tessera.info/event_159