Saturday, 14 October 2017
Review: Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle
Freelance writer, editor and journalist Elizabeth Ingrams, now joins the TLT team and is taken with a fragile new love story where opposites attract.
Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle
by Simon Stephens
Two strangers, an American woman and an Englishman, meet accidentally on a London train station platform and embark on an unlikely and unexpected unrelationship.
There are waves of false starts, lies, confusions and sheer luck for Alex, a tango-teaching South London butcher in his 70s and Georgie, a much younger middle-aged primary school teacher.
Georgie's opening parry so confounds Alex's expectations, after his half a century of celibacy, he agrees to date her. By the second half of this two-hander, 90 minute play, it is Georgie who has her expectations confounded by Alex.
And so begins a slight but attractive love story, a Brief Encounter for the 21st century filled with expectation on every level,
The drama directed by Marianne Elliott unravels on the no-man’s land white space of designer Bunny Christie’s minimalist set, saturated with the ingenious, pulsing coloured lighting of Paule Constable.
How does Heisenberg come into it? Any expectation this play is about physics and a Nobel Prize winner, deviser of the eponymous theory of uncertainty, should certainly be parked outside the theatre.
And don't sigh and think this has as much to do with the play’s title as the title of the film Beethoven has to do with the German composer (in case you don't know the movie's about a St Bernard dog).
Or that that this might closely mirror one of those discussions on Brexit, in the words of The Clash song, "Should I stay or should I go"? There is something subtle that’s worth waiting for here.
Uncertainties do abound: Georgie’s self-invented identity; the whereabouts of her missing son and her former partner; Alex’s uncertainty over the sale of his failing butcher’s business, and, more crucially, what to make of Georgie.
Thus it is that Heisenberg’s Principle, which can be crudely paraphrased as, ‘the more we look into something, the less we can predict how it will turn out, or when,’ is woven into the play's fabric.
Stephens has always been a master of dialogue, allowing him to build his plays on the slightest of premises. Here, though, he allows meaning to emerge from between, rather than in, the lines.
The unexpected happens in plenty of inventive, witty and touching ways - Alex's post-coital classical music treat, Georgie's propensity, perfectly timed by Anne-Marie Duff, for screeching unexpectedly which brings the house down.
Is Georgie truly smitten or a calculating, mercenary opportunist preying on an old man? Is Alex a dotard or a wily fox picking up a younger woman for his own future benefit?
The play delicately leaves questions hanging in the air. The feature film-length, one-act play's slender structure immeasurably benefits from the cast, Anne-Marie Duff’s performance as Georgie - a brash, sometimes raucous New Jerseyite - and Kenneth Cranham’s shy-but-cuddly butcher.
Cranham’s strangled-cat vowels only finally emerge into full voice in the second half of the play when Duff's Georgie shows us her tango and the final dance of these two lonely hearts binds several negatives into a positive and a TLT amber/green light.