[The Physicists]

shown on the 5th, 6th and 7th December 1996





The play takes place in the drawing-room of a country house in Cambridge. This may not be the Cambridge we know, but one which bears a startling resemblance to it. Compared to the universe, you see, the earth is a tiny, organism which can reproduce itself by a form of asexual reproduction. It is different from the kind you see in micro organisms, because the earth does not actually physically split. Every time the earth passes across the event horizon of a black hole an image of the it is produced by the operation known as ‘mirroring’. Clearly many complex processes occur during this time, many of which are poorly understood, our physicists at Darwin are working on these very problems right now. These mirror image earths are propelled out into space, but the reproductions are not perfect! This is something our physicists have only just recently discovered. There is evidence that the images have mass. This opens the possibility of life on other planets. It is on one of these other ‘Earths’ that we join the action.


(in order of appearance)

MARTHA BAILEY, Sister Maya Brala
DANIJELA, a police photographer Danijela Trenkic
2ND POLICEMAN Stephane Beaulac
HERBERT GEORGE BUTLER (NEWTON), a patient Clemens Ballarin
DOCTOR JENNIFER LLOYD, a clinical psychologist Sophie von Graevenitz
OSCAR ROSE, her husband, a missionary Scott Drimie
ANTHONY, son 1 Tim Scase
WILFRED, son 2 Paul Perry
BENJAMIN, son 3 Alice Bunn
JOHANN WILHELM MÖBIUS, a patient Gordon Coy
MONICA STELLA, a nurse Rachel Morton
OMAR, chief male attendant Donald Nicolson
MCARTHUR, male attendant Aftab Awan/Stephane Beaulac
MURILLO, male attendant Paul Perry
Nurse 1: Jane Treagus

Directed by REND SHAKIR


by D.H.Mellor

Durrenmatt's The Physicists
Adapted for Darwin College and presented by Origin in Darwin Hall, 5-6 December 1996

The Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt is a sort of dramatic Roal Dahl, writing macabre melodramas with a serious and sinister twist, a genre of which The Physicists is a fine if rather dated example. It was written in the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) world of the Cold War, when we all knew that friction between NATO and the Warsaw Pact might at any time provoke the use of nuclear weapons to wipe the earth ten times over. That prospect was a constant backdrop to our lives then, as it isn't now: the weapons still exist, of course, and madmen, terrorists, dictators and ideologues might still acquire and threaten to use them; but at least we no longer live in states whose defence relies on deterring enemies by threatening to destroy the world if they attack. This too is why spies are less fascinating now than they were in Bond's heyday, when the stakes they played for were apparently so much higher.

That era was the setting in and for which Durrenmatt wrote The Physicists, and its passing poses a problem to modern directors: the play has lost its serious topicality and is not yet old enough to be a period piece. However, much of it still works well enough as a farcical mystery, and that is how Origin chose to treat it, moving its action to a Darwin-like madhouse in a parallel universe. The plot, with its three seemingly mad physicists, was played out clearly in a staging that helped the claustrophobic atmosphere by bringing the audience close in on three sides, was well lit, and had an almost distractingly good soundtrack. The Physicists still plays well in the first half, which sets up the mystery of who the apparent madmen really are and why each of them should murder one of their nurses. It is the second half, when two of the inmates reveal themselves as spies trying to kidnap the third (a real physicist protecting his dangerous discoveries by feigning madness) whose effect is weakened by the end of the Cold War. But even if the play's final moral now seems forced, there are still twists and turns enough to hold an audience's attention to the end.

Given the play's inherent difficulties, and a rather wooden translation, this was a pretty good production. Serious melodramatic farce calls for great skill in timing, and if the acting was hardly professional it was certainly competent, though poor cue-taking slowed the pace from time to time. It is also not easy on a three sided stage to give actors natural moves that allow all the audience a fair view of them, and this too was well done. All in all, The Physicists marks an encouraging rebirth of Darwin drama, and if future productions can build on the hard work, imagination and technical skill shown here, we may look forward to the rapid evolution of a whole new species of theatre in the College.

12 December 1996

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