Rhinegold Photo credit: Brinkoff Mögenburg
Anne Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham

Sarah Lambie

Review: Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle

5:21, 13th October 2017

In the programme notes for Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, a scientist quotes an old text book on the subject of the Uncertainty Principle itself: ‘We cannot know the future because we cannot know the present’. And later in the programme, playwright Simon Stephens himself writes ‘We can never see a person fully if we spend our time anticipating what they will do next’. These two phrases, in which science meets philosophy to challenge some of the fundamental habits of human interaction, summarise the inspirational basis for Stephens’ play, but also explain why it’s something of a ‘thinker’. I didn’t come away from it with clear perceptions of how I felt about the characters, their situations or their choices, but found I had been forced into questioning my own preconceptions and assumptions.

The play is a two-hander, starring Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham, and it charts the chance encounter and unlikely relationship between an American woman in her early forties and a British butcher aged 75. Duff’s portrayal of an intensely conflicted, occasionally seemingly manic woman is so performative that my friend found it difficult to see the character for the performance. For me, however, this was less of a problem: I bought that it was ‘Georgie’ who I was seeing perform, and not Duff herself. Cranham, meanwhile, gives a beautiful performance with a considered, gentle gravitas: the contrast is stark and while the two seem to be at far opposite ends of a spectrum, it is easy to see what might attract each to the other.

The writing is extraordinary, as one might expect from Simon Stephens, and the overriding sense of uncertainty is absolutely felt by the audience throughout: there is nothing predictable about either of these two people or their behaviour, and there is a richness of character in that which is compelling. It also feels entirely appropriate that the play runs for an hour and a half straight through – allowing the audience to dip in to these lives for a period of total immersion and then, in my case, to go away and think a lot about it.

Much of the production team is the same as that which brought The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time to the London stage, including director Marianne Elliott, designer Bunny Christie, movement director Steven Hoggett, associate director Elle While, and of course Stephens himself. The production shares the simplicity of Curious, the extremely sparse set, mostly in clean white, comes and goes smoothly with scene transitions featuring Hoggett’s characteristic movement style (albeit somewhat halting in its execution by Cranham). A group of mature KS5 students would have a lot to learn from the performances, the design and the direction, and it would be well worth taking them along.


Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle is running at the Wyndham’s Theatre until 6 January 2018. 

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