Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, like Doctor Atomic, examines the personal and political events surrounding the development of the atomic bomb during the second world war.

The play dramatises various possible conversations that could have occurred when Niels Bohr visited Werner Heisenberg in German occupied Copenhagen in 1941.  The structure of the play is not linear – it revises and re-imagines events, attempting to mirror principles of quantum mechanics in dramatic form: complementarity and uncertainty.  Aside from the politics and physics, Frayn’s play is a quite moving exploration of the changing relationship between  mentor and pupil over time.

It is an incredibly interesting piece of drama – the only real downfall being the (perhaps necessary) simplification of the scientific issues.  The way that the physics is discussed is not the way that two of the brightest physicists of the twentieth century would have talked to one another.  It breaks the illusion.  And as with many plays dealing with this time, an irritating female character is used as a device to explain events to the plebs in the audience, and occasionally gasp ‘won’t somebody please think of the children?‘ (in this case, Heisenberg’s wife Margrethe).

This production was directed by Tony Cownie and designed by Neil Murray.  Compared to the average play Copenhagen allows some scope for interpretation – it is written without any stage directions and only requires set peices to describe the Heisenberg’s house and garden.  At the Lyceum the walls, floor and a few vertical poles were covered with oversized handwriting, with a few chairs and piles of paper for props – placing the events clearly in a world of ideas and recolection.   The production was really very good – if you ignored the moment just before the curtain call when a ridiculous projection of the earth spinning suddenly appeared.  I’m going to pretend it didn’t happen.

By Michael Frayn

Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh