Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle
10 October 2017
Despite its prominence in the title, a deep scientific knowledge of the Heisenberg Principle is not necessary to enjoy this production. Basically, the more a particle is measured with greater precision, there is a corresponding increasing imprecision- certainty breeds uncertainty, and its risk that we humans are adverse to. In the case of Simon Stephen’s new play, when Alex bumps into Georgie on one of his many walks, she raises him out of his routine, into areas he has never explored before. The first production from Elliot and Harper Productions, its Marianne Elliot’s first direction since her majestic Angels in America. Although the canvas is smaller, the questions are still big.
The piece is beautifully acted by Kenneth Cranham and Anne-Marie Duff, he set in his ways, she gobby and American, a seasoned traveller, adventurous yet missing her son, who has disappeared in New Jersey. She is uncertainty, lies to him, and confesses her lies, probes into his life. He is burdened by the death of his sister, and he carries that in his walk, and it’s wonderful to see Cranham open Alex up as the play progresses, especially his delight in her laughter. But she is complex, almost a shape shifter, and Anne-Marie Duff exudes energy, a luminous performance. It’s especially rewarding to see a 75 year old man being a sexual character, without disease or pain, although his likely death casts a shadow over their relationship as they fall in love- it’s rare to see an inter-generational love story. Bunny Christie’s design and Paulie Constable’s exemplary lighting complement each other perfectly, enclosing the characters in intimate scenes, Alex’s bed rolling into view as they roll drunkenly towards it, making most out of light, space and simplicity.
Ultimately the Uncertainty Principle is Love- the promise and the threat of it. The play works in dualities, English/American, shy/brashness, routine/adventure, certainty/uncertainty. Simon Stephen’s sweary, beautiful script doesn’t work on that a level as simple as that, but I found it lacked depth. Alex has a beautiful speech, whilst listening to Bach, about music being formed in the space between the notes, and for me, that’s the issue with the play. At 90 minutes, it feels as if it could be even shorter, and the stakes are not raised high enough. Alex becomes comfortable with uncertainty far too quickly, there is a bigger play suggested in the white space between the lines. It all adds up to a very low key evening, a play that’s interesting than involving.