‘Oppenheimer’ by Tom Morton-Smith at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
A guest review by Derek Linney
Oppenheimer provided us with the motivation to take a trip to Stratford and our first visit to the Swan Theatre. Apart from the appeal of the play’s subject we were attracted to see John Heffernan whose career we have followed with interest for a number of years. The Swan Theatre was a perfect setting for the play; the thrust stage enabling a closeness to the performance and an engaging experience. Tom Morton-Smith, the playwright, combines the personal story of Oppenheimer and the other physicists, the political context, especially that of the communist affiliations or sympathy of many of those scientists and the challenge of the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb at Los Alamos during WW2.
Although it touches upon the moral dilemmas of creating the first weapon of mass destruction this aspect is relatively briefly covered in comparison to the personal and political pressures of the Manhattan Project. This is justifiable in the context of the development of the bomb as the moral debate was primarily a later, post-war one; at the time the challenge was to develop the bomb before Nazi Germany could develop one. This context is especially critical given that many of the scientists involved were European émigrés who had first-hand knowledge of the horrors of totalitarian Germany. Continue reading Oppenheimer
‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ at the Aldwych Theatre
9th July, 2014
‘You cannot make my thoughts a crime’
‘But I can, you see’
Thanks to the mnemonic we learned in history lessons: ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’, we are familiar with this summary of Henry VIII’s serial marriages. The monarchy is historically all about male succession, and Henry produced no viable male heir. (Elizabeth, who succeeded him, was the daughter of Anne Boleyn.) This, then, was the springboard of all internal political action as well as of international affairs. Marriage was business. And marriage was the prerogative of the church, whose blessing was required to validate it.
Mike Poulton’s compression of the royal power politics over 1,000 pages of Hilary Mantel’s fictionalised biography of Thomas Cromwell in ‘Wolf Hall and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ into two plays is a masterful achievement. Even pared down, the effect sharpens wit and focuses our perspective on the two main characters: Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII.
There is little sense of the historical textural loss of Mantel’s well researched narrative of Tudor England in the 16th century. Christopher Oram’s stark fixed set is a vast concrete-and-steel prison-like box with a huge cross of light dominating the back wall. The contrasting richness of the costumes are a reminder of how Mantel presents detail;how she loves embroidery, decorative baubles, textiles. The result on stage is like watching a Rembrandt canvas come alive. Cleverly, Paule Constable uses light to seemingly brighten Henry’s world every time he appears.
More importantly, the focus becomes the dense rich dialogue which informs the audience and drives the narrative on. Continue reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies