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In Copenhagen at Malvern Theatres, four worlds merge. History, politics, physics and theatre. To fully appreciate the production, the audience will need at least a passable understanding of them all. This fast paced, atmospheric play is so gripping that you can almost overlook the empty seats still in place due to social distancing. Starting from beyond the grave, the three characters look back on the clandestine meeting that remains a puzzle to this day.
Copenhagen is a new production from Theatre Royal Bath Productions and Jonathan Church Productions based on Michael Frayn’s multi-award winning play. It explores a secret meeting of two brilliant minds that took place in Nazi occupied Copenhagen in 1941. Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg were Nobel Prize winning physicists and old friends. However, they now found themselves on opposite sides of the political divide. The play speculates about the conversations that may have taken place between the men when they met under the watchful eye of Margrethe, Bohr’s wife.
It touches on the transformative ideas they may have debated. Each having huge implications for both the allies and the Nazis. It is a historical detective story based on scientific facts. The drama that ensues enthralled audiences at the National Theatre before transferring to both the West End and Broadway. In 2000, it won the Tony Award for best play. The version of Copenhagen currently showing at Malvern Theatres stars Haydn Gwynne, Malcolm Sinclair and Philip Arditti.
Copenhagen at Malvern Theatres: Review
With only three characters on stage, Copenhagen has the potential to be somewhat underwhelming. The set portrays the home of Niels Bohr with a basic layout of a desk and an assortment of chairs. And yet, the drama presented by those three figures is completely captivating. There is no definitive answer as to what was said at the meeting between Bohr and Heisenberg. They were known to be good friends and colleagues with differing theories on the scientific questions of the time. However, after the war their recollections of the meeting in Copenhagen differed vastly. Or certainly, those that they were willing to share.
Rather than focusing on one speculative storyline, Copenhagen is somewhat cyclical. Frayn grasps hold of one possible dialogue at a time and explores it. They discuss fission and politics. Separately, then as the play moves on, the two topics come together. Development of the atomic bomb by the Allies, and by Hitler. Had Heisenberg turned to Bohr to try to prevent both sides from working on such a catastrophic weapon? We know that the conversation damaged the relationship between Bohr and Heisenberg. As a result, much of the speech on stage is delivered in raised voices.
Along the way, the actors treat the audience to a lesson in complex theoretical physics. How we can split uranium but only if it takes the rare form of uranium-235. The production of plutonium and how a nuclear reactor can harvest the power this creates. The collision of science and politics is somewhat at the fore in modern times due to the pandemic. It is easy to forget that in the past, scientists have faced even bigger moral decisions.
What you need to know about Copenhagen at Malvern Theatres
- When is Copenhagen at Malvern Theatres? Monday 5th to Saturday 10th July 2021. Evenings 7.30pm and Wednesday and Saturday Matinées at 2.30pm.
- Who will enjoy Copenhagen? I wouldn’t say it was necessary to have a deep understanding of physics or history to appreciate the play, but without some overview of it the production would be difficult to follow.
- How to book tickets? Tickets are available to book on the Malvern Theatres website.
- Is Malvern Theatre Covid secure? The theatre environment feels extremely safe. Masks are worn at all times in the building and everyone is well spaced out to allow for social distancing.
- Where will Copenhagen be showing next? After finishing in Malvern, Copenhagen will be showing in Cambridge Arts Theatre from Monday 12th to Saturday 17th July and Rose Theatre Kingston from Tuesday 20th to Saturday 24th July.
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