Previewed 27 March 2015, Opened 31 March 2015, Closed 23 May 2015 at the Vaudeville Theatre in London
The Royal Shakespeare Company present Angus Jackson's production of Tom Morton-Smith's new play Oppenheimer in London for strictly limited eight week season.
1939: fascism spreads across Europe, Franco marches on Barcelona and two German chemists discover the processes of atomic fission. In Berkeley, California, theoretical physicists recognise the horrendous potential of this new science: a weapon that draws its power from the very building blocks of the universe. The ambitious and charismatic J Robert Oppenheimer finds himself uniquely placed to spearhead the largest scientific undertaking in all of human history. Determined to cast off his radical past and struggling with tempestuous relationships with his colleagues, wife and mistress, Oppenheimer finds himself thrust into a position of power, racing to create a weapon so devastating that it would bring about an end not just to the Second World War, but to all war.
This production transfers to London's West End following a critically acclaimed sell-out run at the RSC's base in Stratford-upon-Avon. The cast features John Heffernan in the title role. Directed by Angus Jackson with designs by Robert Innes Hopkins, lighting by Paul Anderson and sound by Christopher Shutt. Angus Jackson's West End London theatre credits include Tim Firth's Neville’s Island starring Adrian Edmondson, Miles Jupp, Neil Morrissey and Robert Webb (Duke of York's Theatre 2014), David Wood's stage adaptation of Michelle Magorian's Goodnight Mister Tom starring Oliver Ford Davies (Phoenix Theatre 2012), Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version (Harold Pinter Theatre 2012), the 'Blondie' musical Desperately Seeking Susan (Novello Theatre 2007) and Kwame Kwei-Armah's Elmina's Kitchen (Garrick Theatre 2005).
When this production transferred to London's Vaudeville Theatre in March 2015, Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard highlighted that, "after a much-praised run at Stratford, the RSC's best piece of new writing in years settles triumphantly into its London berth... director Angus Jackson keeps the scenes fizzing inventively along and there’s strong support from Catherine Steadman as an exlover as unstable as a ton of uranium. Outstanding." Kate Bassett in the Times said: "An inspired piece of commissioning by the RSC, this epic biodrama, now in the West End, seems astonishingly assured and mature given that the playwright Tom Morton-Smith has until now had only two or three fringe premieres to his name," adding that "Angus Jackson's high-energy then quietly mournful production is staged with theatrical flair, with the floor serving as a giant blackboard for avidly scribbled equations... all in all this is fascinating, the best scientific biodrama since Michael Frayn's Copenhagen." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times described how Tom Morton-Smith's "impressive play about the so-called father of the atomic bomb" is "a restless, intelligent and ultimately desolate drama, delivered in Angus Jackson’s RSC production with fizzing energy."
When this production opened at the RSC's Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in January 2015, David Lister in the Independent wrote that "Angus Jackson's quick-fire direction makes the production zing along... immaculately acted, this is a strangely gripping evening." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph said that "This breakthrough for playwright Tom Morton – Smith is a sure–fire hit for the RSC... Overall, this ambitious attempt to encapsulate a complex scientific and historical chapter – and the contradictions of its leading light – delivers the dazzling spectacle of brilliant minds at unparalleled work during a time of unprecedented darkness." Dominic Maxwell in the Times commented that although "some intelligent ideas fail to add up to a persuasive thesis... still, Jackson’s production is full of disciplined, spirited performances in handsome period suits, led by the ever-brilliant John Heffernan." Michael Billington in the Guardian noted how "Angus Jackson’s production catches the propulsive excitement of a play that takes us from a Berkeley campus to a Pacific airbase... The result is the most fascinating play about the moral issues surrounding nuclear physics since Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard highlighted that it was "a snappy and inventive production from director Angus Jackson." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times thought that "Angus Jackson "and his cast cannot overcome the sheer volume of material presented."
"In his profound new play Tom Morton-Smith charts the protagonist's journey from optimism when, as a young professor at Berkeley, he raises funds to fight fascism in Spain and protests against racial segregation, to pessimism, when, quoting the Bhagavad-Gita, he declares: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of all worlds"... John Heffernan, in a careerdefining performance, brilliantly meets all the challenges of the role, his soft-spoken manner masking his iron will and half-smiles underlining his unease... Angus Jackson's sensitive production expertly animates the scientific discourse while neither confusing nor condescending to the audience. It is a rare pleasure to welcome such an intellectually rich and morally complex play to the West End." The Sunday Express
"Thermo-nuclear physics made simple. A tough ask, but brilliantly executed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in this new play about J Robert Oppenheimer, father of the Atomic Bomb... Angus Jackson's fast-paced direction of Tom Morton-Smith's play gives us a true sense of the race against the Nazis to detonate the device that brought the Second World War to a close. Intelligent, highly watchable theatre." The Sunday Mirror
"Atoms are split, friendships frayed and pinkos attacked in Tom Morton-Smith's bold and ambitious depiction of the scientists who developed the bomb in Los Alamos during the Second World War... The play fizzes with energy as it portrays the tension between the vitality of the scientists racing against the Germans and the deadly power of their creation... John Heffernan is riveting as J Robert Oppenheimer , the hugely talented scientist and sometime communist sympathiser who initially holds a fundraising party to fight the fascists in Spain, then abandons the cause in order to head the project... Morton-Smith even makes the science accessible — at least for the length of the play — for those of us challenged by talk of fission and particle accelerators." Sunday Times
"Tom Morton-Smith's remarkable debut play begins with 'Oppie' delivering a lecture to his students about the nature of his work 'to better understand the universe'. It concludes, post-Hiroshima, with Oppie himself saying: 'I've left a loaded gun in the playground.' In John Heffernan’s detailed, textured and very moving performance of a complex and clever bloke whose passion for science is all-consuming, his tears suggest his heart is not quite as 'lead-lined' as he had hoped. It is not only the deadly appliance of science that has got to him, but the fact he has shut himself off from close relationships and, worse, that the FBI won’t leave him alone, even though he rejected his Left-leaning ideals – and the friends who shared them... As a study of the human fall-out of nuclear experiment, this piece hits its target with terrifying precision." The Mail on Sunday
Oppenheimer in London at the Vaudeville Theatre with previewed from 27 March 2015, opened on 31 March 2015 and closed on 23 May 2015.