Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle at the Wyndham’s Theatre is Simon Stephens’ curious fusion of romantic comedy with science, exploring what happens when two unlikely worlds collide.
Georgie (Anne-Marie Duff) is free-spirited to the point of electrifying impulsivity, whereas Alexander (Kenneth Cranham) is a 75 year old butcher so wedded to his routine that he has chronicled his life in 50 words a day for the last 67 years. Georgie, who exuberantly exists in the intersection between eccentricity and mental illness, crashes into Alexander’s life by planting a kiss on his neck in a train station – and thus begins an unlikely love affair. The title may be somewhat grandiose for what is essentially a character study which hints to its namesake, but isn’t so deeply immersed in grappling with that concept that it alienates the audience from what it truly is: an unlikely slow-burning love story.
The greatest strength of this play is its intricate characterisation. Georgie and Alexander unfurl complex characters, both likeable and exasperating in almost equal measure, in the most gratifying manner. Their journeys as individuals – and as a pair – are so unlikely, but done with such conviction that we accept it. Alexander’s character arch is the far more interesting of the pair, as he grows from resistance and stoicism to joyful and impulsive with the guide of a feckless Georgie.
Stephens punctuates poignant moments of insight into a cross-generational relationship with comedic speeches (a particular favourite was Alexander’s exploration of music throughout the years!) and illuminates the juxtaposing natures of the characters with witty one-line shut downs. Their stark age difference emphasizes this contrast further, and it is a testament to the cast that they can present the relationship as authentic rather than jarring.
The real cherry on the cake is the stage design, with large white moving walls and billowing light pulsating in both a satisfying and oppressive fashion. The tides of light and fluctuation of space onstage aptly reflected the action, whilst providing a neutral yet fantastical backdrop for the characters to truly shine against.
My main critique is the use of stylised physical theatre to transition between scenes, which although nods to the scientific, grand ideas that with which Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle grapples with some success, feel a little half hearted. Disregarding the potential physical limitations of a slightly older cast member, these interludes felt as though they lacked the necessary conviction for them to weld the scenes together as seamlessly as intended.