J. Robert Oppenheimer, the ‘Father of the Atomic Bomb’ – on the face of it, not the most obvious subject of a West End play! But it makes for utterly compelling viewing.
The play begins with Oppenheimer in his natural environment, as Professor of Physics, giving his students (& the audience) a lecture. This is a clever way to begin a show, a development of the current trend of some cast members waiting onstage before the start, however it does require the audience to be settled promptly – and to be quiet once it’s obvious the play has begun. Sadly some of the people around me weren’t the most aware!
I really enjoyed the way some of the early scenes intertwined with each other; a mix of a Communist Party fundraiser and the background to some of the physics involved in the rest of the play. As a geneticist, I’m more comfortable with biology, so it was good to have the physics explained. It’s also a fantastic way of communicating science with a wider audience and engaging minds.
Visually this production is stunning. From the choreography to the costumes, the lighting to the props & scenery. Another quirk is that the music is all played live, by a group of talented musicians waiting in the wings – this is very refreshing for a play.
Catherine Steadman puts in an arresting performance as Oppenheimer’s unstable on-off lover Jean Tatlock, somehow encapsulating the full spectrum of excitable to heartbreaking.
John Heffernan could not be more perfect in the starring role. He is absolutely captivating and authentic as the gifted scientist; it’s hard to take your eyes off him. You truly believe that Oppenheimer pursued his research out of professional curiosity and with the goal of ending all future conflict – little did he know… His final monologue to close the play was beautifully written and immaculately spoken; it had me in tears by the end.
It’s still open at the Vaudeville Theatre for another 3 weeks. I’d thoroughly recommend you catch it!
Thank you once again to the Wellcome Trust and the RSC for my tickets.