COPENHAGEN Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen was first produced in Sydney in 2002 to a sonorous chorus of praise by critics, and proved that solid, concentrated acting and an intelligent script could also attract large audiences.
The latest revival of Copenhagen remains captivating and suspenseful -“ a superb production of a dazzling play.
The play is based on an historic meeting between Niels Bohr (John Gaden, pictured centre) and Werner Heisenberg (Robert Menzies, left) in Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1941, during which Heisenberg raised the issue of using atomic physics to develop weapons.
The men were world leaders in physics at the time and were once friends. Now, the half-Jewish Bohr and his wife Margrethe (Jane Harders, right) are under surveillance and are effectively enemies of Heisenberg, a scientist who finds himself working for the Nazis.
On stage, Frayn presents the three protagonists as ghosts, re-enacting the encounter to find closure, and the stakes are breathtakingly high for all concerned. To create an atomic weapon might kill thousands, but to refuse might mean losing the war.
Harders and Gaden give impeccable performances, maintaining the brilliant pacing established by director Michael Blakemore, who also directed the play in London, Paris and New York. In this production the only major change has been the casting of Robert Menzies as Werner Heisenberg, who replaces Colin Friels. (Menzies played Heisenberg in touring performances of the play.)
Menzies is strong, but his Heisenberg is very different from Friels’s interpretation. While Friels seemed distant and eccentric, Menzies enters the stage as a tormented lab rat. Against Menzies’s frantic guilt, Gaden’s Bohr seems more culpable, and Margrethe’s reassuring promise that her husband has done nothing wrong becomes surprisingly disconcerting.
For those catching the show for a second time it’s like seeing the play anew. For newcomers it’s still the best show in town, restoring one’s faith in the simple pleasures of the theatrical experience.
Copenhagen by Michael Frayn plays at the Wharf 1 Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company, Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, until 3 July. Phone 9250 1777.