Copenhagen

Previewed 22 May 1998, Opened 28 May 1998, Closed 27 January 1999 (in repertory) at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre
Previewed 5 February 1999, Opened 9 February 1999, Closed 7 April 2001 at the Duchess Theatre

The World Premiere of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen in London

In 1941 the German physicist Werner Heisenberg made a strange trip to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart, Niels Bohr. They were old friends, and their work together had opened the way into the atom. But now they were on opposite sides of a world war, and the meeting ended in disaster.

Scientists and historians have argued ever since about why Heisenberg went, and what the two men said. Copenhagen retraces their journey through the mysteries of the world around us - and on into the even stranger mysteries of the world within.

The cast at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre featured David Burke as 'Niels Bohr', Sara Kestleman as 'Margaret Bohr', and Matthew Marsh as 'Werner Heisenberg'.

The cast at the West End's Duchess Theatre (up to Saturday 7 August 1999) featured David Burke as 'Niels Bohr', Sara Kestleman as 'Margaret Bohr', and Matthew Marsh as 'Werner Heisenberg'. Midweek matinee performances featured David Baron as 'Niels Bohr', Corinna Marlowe as 'Margaret Bohr', and William Brand as 'Werner Heisenberg'.

The cast at the West End's Duchess Theatre (from Monday 9 August 1999 - all performances) featured David Baron as 'Niels Bohr', Corinna Marlowe as 'Margaret Bohr', and William Brand as 'Werner Heisenberg'.

Directed by Michael Blakemore with designs by Peter J Davidson, lighting by Mark Henderson, and sound by Simon Baker.

Michael Frayn's West End credits include Noises Off, Donkeys' Years and Benefactors.

"Garlanded with awards, Michael Frayn's Copenhagen transfers impeccably from the National Theatre to the West End. Not the least of its virtues is that it shows that out of a three-character, one-set play you can create both intellectually gripping drama and a metaphor for what Lear called 'the mystery of things'... Frayn builds a brilliant play - one that replays, from the vantage-point of eternity, the endless possibilities of this collision of human particles. Under the watchful eye of Bohr's wife, Margrethe, the two men re-live their encounter, searching for its meaning... The play's balance of emotion and ideas is beautifully captured in Michael Blakemore's production, while the three actors perfectly show the relation between science and character. Some claim to have been blinded by Frayn's science; I emerged deeply moved by his simultaneous awareness of life's value and its inexplicable mystery". The Guardian

"Michael Frayn's Copenhagen is busy collecting every gong in sight. It has already swept up the Evening Standard and the Critics' Circle awards for best drama... You might imagine that the most striking difference in the shift from studio theatre would be the configuration of stage and audience. One of the play's great virtues is, after all, its absolute purity of focus. It trains its lens on characters who are arguing, in some stark limbo beyond the grave, about what really transpired when the German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg made his mysterious, fateful, inconclusive visit to his former teacher, Niels Bohr, in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen in 1941. Was his aim to try to warn the older rim of the German atomic bomb programme or to recruit him for it; to give or to filch? And was Heisenberg's role in the slowing down of that programme evidence of virtue or scientific ignorance? The play's austere concentration was heightened by placing the action on a bare circular set with part of the audience on steeply raked seats at the back like jurors in a never-ending tribunal. Yet the Duchess Theatre has such an intimate lectureroom atmosphere that the same conditions are easily reproduced... Delicately applying Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to his own life and to life in general, the play is a profound and haunting meditation on the mysteries of human motivation. It is also a poignant love story of sorts, the older scientist seeking, and then feeling betrayed by, a substitute son. Michael Blakemore's superb production is wonderfully attentive to the play's recurring rhythms, as this trio endlessly re-enact the momentous encounter." The Independent

"This extraordinary play - at once an historical detective story, a lecture in morality and a lesson in advanced nuclear physics - shows that Michael Frayn, at his best, can blend bogglingly cerebral material with the skill of a theatrical master craftsman. The comedy-writer and Chekhov-translator here reveals a fiercely questing intellect and a passionate concern with humanity... And this West End transfer of Michael Blakemore's production shows how richly Copenhagen deserves the critical plaudits - and the Evening Standard Best New Play award - it garnered for its Cottesloe run. The action is stilted, the exposition initially laboured and the scientific content potentially overwhelming. Yet Frayn deftly relates the rarefied world of theoretical physics to the personal and the universal... Blakemore's starkly lucid production confronts the play head-on. It features a splendidly understated performance from David Burke as the quizzically paternal Bohr, and a showier, sweatier but no less impressive performance from Matthew Marsh as the hypertense Heisenberg. Sara Kestelman makes the most of the slightly underwritten but essential role of Margarete Bohr. Tolerant but sardonic, she repeatedly brings the discussions of the two geniuses harshly down to earth so that the rest of us can understand and relish this adroit, compassionate and unashamedly intelligent work." The London Evening Standard

Copenhagen in London at the Duchess Theatre previewed from 5 February 1999, opened on 9 February 1999, and closed on 7 April 2001