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I had reservations about listening to the broadcast last night on Radio 3 of Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen for 3 reasons.

Niels Bohr

1) It is based on the meeting in 1941 of two leading physicists Niels Bohr, a Jewish Dane, and Werner Eisenberg, a Jewish German who headed up the Nazi nuclear programme.

My first problem is that I have little knowledge and less understanding of quantum mechanics.

2) What do you exactly do for 2 hours whilst listening to a relatively complex radio play? I cooked a meal and totally forgot a scheduled call at 8.00pm.  One hour into the play I was looking at my watch.

3) A radio play by definition lacks the impact of an actual theatre performance.

Nonetheless it had a stellar cast of Simon Russell Beale as Bohr, Benedict Cumberbatch as Eisenberg and Greta Saccchi as Bohr’s feisty wife Margarethe. All were excellent.

The issue between Bohr and Eisenberg, former colleagues now on different sides of the fence, was complicity in nuclear programmes.

Ironically after Bohr fled Denmark in 1943, he went to America to to work at Los Alamos on the nuclear bomb.

Werner Eisenberg

Eisenberg conversely denied that he was working on a Nazi bomb or that he was effectively spying on Bohr in 1941 but this does rather strain credulity. Margarethe exposes both.

It is not always easy to appreciate when the three main characters are speaking to the audience and when they are speaking to each other.  Frayn made a decent job of making quantum mechanics comprehensible, the rivalry between themselves and other physicists is of dramatic appeal and the number of Jewish physicists, most removed by the Nazis, also of interest.

Nonetheless after two hours I did feel “enough already”.

About Bernadette Angell

After cutting her journalistic teeth in Boston USA, Bernadette met and married an Englishman, whom she followed back to London. Two decades and three children later, they divorced. She now occupies herself as a freelance writer (credits include television soaps and radio plays) and occasional amateur gardener. More Posts