A
 
Web www.artsmart.co.za
A R T S M A R T
arts news from kwazulu-natal

drama
www.artsmart.co.za
enquiries@artsmart.co.za
 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
 

NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

COPENHAGEN (article first published : 2000-08-5)

The time is now. The place: the hereafter. The characters: three highly intellectual people - a husband and wife and a young man whose actions threaten to destroy the close friendly relationship between them all.

They are the highly respected Danish mathematician physicist Neils Bohr considered the “father of atomic physicists”, his wife Margarethe who handled most of his work for him and brilliant young German physicist Werner Heisenberg, the founder of the Uncertainty Principle.

The subject under discussion is what prompted Werner Heisenberg in 1941 - a time when he was the most powerful scientist in Germany - to visit Neils Bohr in Denmark. While the two physicists had been close friends and colleagues in the past, Bohr being the younger Heisenberg’s mentor, their respective countries were at war and Denmark was then occupied by Germany. Another complication was that Bohr (ironically called “the Pope” behind his back by his students and followers) was Jewish. Not long after the meeting, German freighters were to be despatched to Copenhagen to remove all Jewish citizens for deportation to the concentration camps.

Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen opened in London at the National’s Cottesloe Theatre in May 1998 and since then, this compelling and thought-provoking drama has taken the world by storm, reaping awards wherever it appears.

The director of the production currently running at the Square Space is Maurice Podbrey. Durban-born and educated, he trained in theatre in England and worked extensively in Britain before moving to Canada where he joined the National Theatre School in Montreal. He has now returned permanently to South Africa which is good news for lovers of excellent theatre.

As the unkempt and volatile Neils Bohr he is masterful with gravelly voice and staccato delivery . I have never seen Maurice’s work before, so I have no point of comparison but if this is the kind of performance he can present while still directing the play to such a high level, then my admiration knows no bounds.

He has pulled from Catherine Farren and Tim Wells the finest performances I have ever seen them produce. Excellently aged with her hair dyed Nordic blonde, Catherine plays the thoughtful, serene and seemingly-calm wife with a beautiful stillness and restraint. For much of the play, she keeps in the background as she probably did in real life in the shadow of her famous husband’s strident personality. She watches from the sidelines as the two men discuss, argue, dissect, compare or dismiss ideas and theories. When she gets to have her own say, she does so with startling clarity and the audience realises that she has learnt much from the endless typing and retyping of Bohrs’ papers and has virtually become an informal physicist in her own right.

Whereas Podbrey’s Bohr is untidily dressed, his unruly shock of white hair flaring as he prowls around, Tim Wells brings a burning energy and control to his portrayal of Werner Heisenberg. Smartly dressed in a formal suit, he remains neat and compact keeping his emotions under wraps. He holds his own as a man who has been sent on a mission he finds distasteful but his desperation is evident to seek absolution from Bohr. Heisenberg remembers the devastation of war from his childhood and is faced with the prospect of being responsible for far greater devastation. While not revealing the purpose of his visit – with no factual evidence, the play deals with hypothetical discussions at this historic meeting – he leads Bohr on to work out the answer himself.

The play not only moves backwards and forwards in time but also in and out of speech and thought. The only props are three chairs which either place the players far apart as protagonists or, closer, in a more intimate space. While the subject matter of nuclear fission may be daunting to many, don’t be put off. At its simplest, it’s about a possible betrayal by a surrogate son of the generous trust given by his father figure. This is one of the finest plays to be seen in Durban in a long while.

Copenhagen runs at the University of Natal’s Square Space Theatre until August 19. Book at Computicket.




 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
a co-production by caroline smart services and .durbanet. site credits
copyright © subsists in this page. all rights reserved. [ edit ] copyright details  artsmart