Review | Copenhagen at The Spring Arts Centre, Havant: 'Sarah Ash gives a masterclass in acting'

Michael Frayn’s 1998 play, based on the relationship between physicists Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, is a brave choice for any local company; the text is dense, assumes a knowledge of the two principal characters and would surely be better appreciated by those with at least a smattering of quantum theory in their lives.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 1:59 pm
Copenhagen by Bench Theatre is at The Spring Arts Centre in Havant, September 2021.
Copenhagen by Bench Theatre is at The Spring Arts Centre in Havant, September 2021.

I raise my hand, now, to being one with no knowledge of or interest in that particular branch of the sciences.

Does that make a trip to see it valueless?

Far from it.

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Bench Theatre’s production, directed with supreme economy by Jacquie Penrose, is worth seeing for its sheer theatricality and the three performances, in the broadest terms, are admirable.

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Sarah Ash as Bohr’s wife, Margrethe – an actress always easy to watch – gives a masterclass in acting, here, particularly in a scene towards the end of the first act in which Margrethe plays little, if no, part; all the character does is listen to the debate between Bohr and Heisenberg – and Ash does just that.

She listens.

That might seem an easy acting-challenge to the uninitiated, but it’s not. The temptation is to Act (with a capital A); to stare, to raise an eyebrow, to huff and puff and React (with a capital R!)

Ash does none of these things – she just listens – and it’s a joy to see.

As her husband, Bohr, David Penrose, very unsurprisingly, paints the character in experienced broad strokes highlighted with tiny, intimate brush-marks.

As a pair, Ash and Penrose are among the area’s best, so their pairing is a no-brainer.

Steve Foden, as Heisenberg, captures the character’s tortured conscience nicely, but could learn a lesson in acting-economy from the others in the cast; practically every line is accompanied by a huge gesture.

The vast majority of these are unnecessary; he has the character’s thought-processes nailed.

Perhaps a little more faith in his own acting ability – for he delivers the lines with thought and power and understanding – would get rid of these.

Jacquie Penrose’s economic direction is matched by her economic set – three chairs on a painted floor – and if anything is proof that all theatre needs to work is an empty space – this is it.

Until Saturday.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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