2015-04-23 night, Vaudeville Theatre, London
with some spoilers…
(I’m agree on the 5 stars)
There were some good reasons that drove me to buy a ticket for “Oppenheimer“.
Being interested in events and historical characters of World War I and II, I wanted to see how R.J. Oppenheimer could have been portrayed on stage.
Then, I always liked Maths and Science at school, especially Chemistry and the Periodic Table.
New writing in UK is very creative with this kind of stories, I found astounding both “War Horse” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time“, for they brought to life pages that I believed to be impossible to be played on stage.
Last but not least, looking for information about the cast, I noticed four actors I was keeping an eye on for some time and some new ones who were getting good reviews for other works.
For months, I wished to be able to go to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see it, when fortunately, due to popular demand, from the end of March the production was transferred to London, far more easy to reach for me.
Following suggestions and enthusiasm of other people who were talking about it on the web, I decided to go to London to see “Oppenheimer” at least twice, but at the end of my holiday I had seen it four times in eight days! And every time I loved it a bit more! During the last time, I was waiting for my favorite scenes to come and I noticed how all the actors played accurately their characters night by night, also making the same movements which seemed made by chance at first glance, and even the smaller details they changed from one performance to another.
“Oppenheimer” is a dynamic and very entertaining show, with thrilling moments and a perfect interaction and coordination between the actors, under the excellent direction by Angus Jackson, and puts together moments in the scientist’s private life with moments where he’s giving lessons or he’s building the atomic bomb. Passing from a scene to another, the man looks lost and bewildered. There’s use of metaphors, since Chemistry itself seems to reflect the life of human beings. Playwright Tom Morton-Smith created a beautiful play with brilliant dialogues, angst, Hamletic doubts, irony, based on accurate historical research, and I bet it will have long life in Theater. I will be no surprised when Broadway and theaters around the world will ask for it!
Oppenheimer, the ambitious, friendly, understanding, brilliant man who loved parties, women and being the mentor of his young students, suggesting them the “right” books to read, so that they could join him in his political beliefs, is portrayed as a strong person, but not really able to create deep relationships with people around him, due also to his troubled youth. At some point, when the Army and McCarthyism enter into his life, he chooses to help his own career, denying his Communist belief and even blaming the other people for being too open about their political ideas. As a nucleus got particles around itself, but never allows them to be closer, all the characters move around him as if he’s the center of their lives, especially his brother, the two women with whom he has an affair and students learning the process of splitting the atom, but at the end everybody are left alone with their own problems. One reviewer even suggests: “They all appear to be like lost electrons”.
Before becoming the destroyer of worlds, the atomic bomb was meant to be the right way to free the world from nazifascism and end the war. And yet, somebody were afraid of using it. For example, there’s the scene where Wilson makes a heartfelt appeal against the use of the bomb, finding it cruel and useless after Hitler died, still hoping that they wouldn’t use it against Japan. Oppenheimer himself realizes what he is helping to create and he’s scared of it.
There’s a terrific scene, that works perfectly, when they make a final test for the explosion and some of the characters are lying on the ground, watching the experiment from far, when suddenly the bomb explodes and everybody start a tribal dance under its red light, raising their arms to the bomb like if it was a god, and declaring one by one their statements.
The cast is composed of twenty talented actors, who play about thirty characters wonderfully written, some of whom are based on real people, imitating a perfect American accent.
I loved them all, but those who will particularly stay in my heart are:
John Heffernan (plays J Robert Oppenheimer) portrays a character who would make you stand in awe in real life, making him human. He’s carried from one scene to another almost in a trance: one moment he’s talking to a General of the US Army, the other moment he hears his daughter crying but doesn’t know what to do with her. But he gives to his character a strong personality, as well. During one performance, in a scene he showed such anger that the cap of the bottle he slammed on the piano flew on the floor! I like when he tells the old tale of the chessboard and grains to explain the chain reaction, almost dancing jumping from one point to another! He expresses tenderness and irony, too, in scenes with Jean or when tries to sing a song to his baby girl. And he even turned left-handed for the occasion, I believe? But what impressed me the most is how Heffernan shows his dismay when he realizes what he helped to create. He’s a performer of great sensitivity and dedication, he got the play on his shoulders, I’ve never seen an actor so taken by a role like John Heffernan at the end of “Oppenheimer”: even after the last scene and the tragic final monologue, during the applauses, he stood still at the center of the stage, still shaken by his emotions! What an amazing actor!
If Heffernan deserves the crown for the strong, emotional performance, the cast deserves to share “the kingdom” with him!
Catherine Steadman (Jean Tatlock) a wonderful actress who lights up the stage just being there, spreading joy and enthusiasm, dancing on the top of a piano or chatting with people. She plays the lover of Oppenheimer, who shares his political opinions and collects money for the victims of the Spanish Civil War. We feel her pain when she realizes that their ideals are utopian and there’s the most heartbreaking scene which she plays with great tenderness and sensitiveness. I hope she continues to make theatre, despite she’s getting attention thanks to some screen roles.
Sandy Foster and Jamie Wilkes (Charlotte and Bob Serber), a true force of nature when they’re on stage, they play a real married couple in the circle of Oppenheimer and some of the funniest scenes of the play, like when they try their hand at espionage and shout their secret at the audience. I love when Foster holds the baby and sings to her and is upset when Oppie wants to give her away. Wilkes plays Einstein, too, using a funny German accent. And yet he left me upset when, as Bob, started to talk with enthusiasm about the effects of the atomic bomb on the bodies of the victims, but suddenly realized what they had done. I guess to see them again soon playing other brilliant roles!
Oliver Johnstone (Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz) plays the teenager student, a gentle cheerful boy who, at a young age, is already in the circle of students who work side by side with the scientist, but he’s also the most damaged by the betrayal of Oppenheimer. He’s a young and passionate actor, with a good curriculum already, he impressed me for some television roles he played. He’s perfect for the role. At the beginning, he shows passion for what Oppenheimer is teaching him, he takes part to the party at his house and we see that they’re great friends. then he becomes more and more upset finding out that he’s out of the project, until the final scene when he returns from war having nothing but a Halloween uniform and begs his old mate to write him a recommendation: when his friend refuses to help him, suddenly with warm voice starts to sing the “Internationale” to remind Oppenheimer about their political beliefs and this is a very touching moment. I’m keeping an eye on this actor!
Jack Holden (Robert Wilson), another student of Oppenheimer, is a treat to watch for how he moves on stage and for the slightly shrill voice he gives to his character. I find nice how, while he was explaining to the audience the stages of research, he was moving his left hand nervously, maybe a detail he studied accurately! He makes you feel really sorry when he tries to convince people and then Oppenheimer about the pointlessness in using the bomb. He is in one of the funniest scenes, too, when he drinks egg and milk after the booze, making the audience laughing out loud! I think he could be great in a comedy!
Ben Allen (Edward Teller) plays the Hungarian scientist, nervous and unsatisfied, looking funny, also due to his accent that mixes together English and Hungarian. His best moment to me is when he sits at the piano playing music and talking about his Hungary, he’s exhilarating. A great performance! Please more of them!
Bradley Hall (Klaus Fuchs / Richard Harrison / Soldier 1 / Military Policeman) is another brilliant actor, who plays multiple roles, he’s in my very favorite funny scene (when Oppenheimer talks to him at the telephone) and one of the most moving (when he says his family died).
Barney Fitzpatrick (Little Boy) is a young actor with a strong determination already, he got a good stage presence and a loud voice that makes a convincing American accent. His character is the real surprise of the show, I love when he comes out of the bomb!
But the others worth a mention:
Thomasin Rand (Puening Kitty Harrison, wife of JR Oppenheimer)
Michael Grady-Hall (Frank Oppenheimer, brother of Robert)
Hedydd Dylan (Jackie Oppenheimer, wife of Frank)
Ross Armstrong (Haakon Chevalier and Richard Feynman)
Daniel Boyd (Joe Weinberg and Tibbets)
Vincent Carmichael (Kenneth Nichols)
Laura Cubitt (Ruth Tolman and Waitress)
William Gaminara (General Leslie Groves)
Andrew Langtree (Peer Da Silva)
Tom McCall (Hans Bethe)
Toby Webster (Luis Alvarez / Doctor)
My favorite dramatic moments:
- Oppie looking lost from one domestic scene to another working on the bomb
- Kitty feeling broken after having given birth
- Klaus Fuchs saying his family died
- Haakon Chevalier interrogation after Oppie’s betrayal
- Frank disappointed by his brother
- Lomanitz realizing he’s the only one not leaving for the base
- Changes in Oppie’s behavior regarding people around him when he joins the Army
- Oppie meets Little Boy playing with a ball
- Jean speech to Oppie, realizing their ideals are utopian
- Jean’s suicide, especially when she talks about her father
- Frank feeling sorry about Jean, holding up his brother while he’s having a panic attack
- Oppie asking Charlotte Serber if she wants to adopt his daughter
- Oppie singing to his baby girl
- The explosion of the bomb, with rays that comes out of it, instead of the mushroom cloud
- Cast dancing under the bomb, like if it was a god
- Wilson praying: “Can we undo it, please?…”
- Little Boy coming out of bomb and speaking
- Bob explaining the effects of the bomb with enthusiasm, but suddenly understands what they did
- Lomanitz can’t find a job after the war and desperately begs Oppie for support
- The passionate, desperate monologue of Oppie at the end…stunning!
My favorite funny moments – Long list actually, but here some:
- The funding party with people dancing and getting drunk
- People writing formulas on the pavement in pauses
- When Jean asks the age of the students, but refuses to say hers
- Jean sings for Oppie taking off her shirt, but he tries to pull her out of his house
- The funny Hungarian and German accents
- Teller explains Hungary
- The explanation of the periodic table
- When Oppie tells the story of the chessboard and grains
- The students asking autograph to Professor Bethe
- Kitty trying to seduce Oppie and talking about her husband
- The scene at the telephone between Oppie and Harrison that ends with “Congratulations!”
- Singer singing some nice songs during the interval
- Serber and Wilson pointing at me and applauding me saying: “…and hey, you’ll kill everyone in the room…well done.” (when I was sitting in the front row, I’m still blushing but I had fun)
- When General Leslie Groves and then Oppie show to be men of command
- When Jackie says: “Hello Jackie, good to see you Jackie…”
- Soldiers building the base and singing
- Da Silva shooting the snake
- Oppie gives the banana bread to the soldier
- Bob Serber making stretches
- The Serbers trying to be spies and screaming at the audience: “Electric rockets!”
- Weinberg drunk, shouting at the waitress
- Wilson taking egg and milk after the booze
Some notes about the staging.
While the set design by Robert Innes Hopkins is simple but effective – a blackboard at the center of the scene, a piano, stalls for the musicians on both sides, the floor and the back wall used as blackboards, changes of locations made with few elements like few furniture and metal sheets, the bombs drawn with light and later built as models that look like big toys, the bigger bomb moving along metal bars on the ceiling in the main scene – the costumes are colorful and detailed in perfect WWII style, as well as music and songs performed live by real musicians, inspired by classic ‘40s themes and written by the composer Grant Olding for the play.
It has been a great pleasure to me meeting some mebers of the cast after the show. They were very nice to me and signed my programme! Unforgettable moment!
The play is still on at the Vaudeville Theatre until May 23. People in London should not miss it!
And thinking that “Oppenheimer” wasn’t even supposed to have a life after Stratford!!
Once I was told by the RSC that it wouldn’t go to London, but it did. So now I guess they still think about recording it for people who can’t see it live.
Now, if you want to read further….
London, Vaudeville Theatre, 27 March – 23 May 2015
Stratford-Upon-Avon, Swan Theatre, 15 January – 7 March 2015
Cast and Creatives and their Twitter accounts:
Ben Allen (plays Edward Teller) @
Ross Armstrong (plays Haakon Chevalier and Richard Feynman) @Rarmstrongbooks
Daniel Boyd (plays Joe Weinberg and Tibbets)
Vincent Carmichael (plays Kenneth Nichols) @Vincecarmichael
Laura Cubitt (plays Ruth Tolman and Waitress) @
Hedydd Dylan (plays Jackie Oppenheimer) @hedusan
Sandy Foster (plays Charlotte Serber) @SandysFerret
William Gaminara (plays General Leslie Groves) @ fan account
Michael Grady-Hall (plays Frank Oppenheimer)
Bradley Hall (plays Klaus Fuchs/Richard Harrison/Soldier 1/Military Policeman) @akabradleyhall
John Heffernan (plays J Robert Oppenheimer)
Jack Holden (plays Robert Wilson)
Oliver Johnstone (plays Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz)
@ForOJohnstone fan account
Andrew Langtree (plays Peer Da Silva) @AndyLangtree
Tom McCall (plays Hans Bethe) @TomMcCallN1 (?)
Thomasin Rand (plays Kitty Puening Harrison)
Catherine Steadman (plays Jean Tatlock) @CatSteadman
Fisher Costello-Rose (plays Little Boy)
Barney Fitzpatrick (plays Little Boy in Stradford and London) instagram @_.bxrney._
Finley Jury (plays Little Boy) instagram @finleyjury
Other cast members in Stratford:
Joel MacCormack (played Klaus Fuchs and Richard Harrison)
Josh O’Connor (played Luis Alvarez/Doctor/Military Policeman) @JoshOConnor15
Fred Barry (played Little Boy)
Christopher Kingdom (played Little Boy)
LONDON Music performed live by:
Clarinet – Mark Lacey
Trumpet – Chris Seddon
Guitar – Andy Robinson
Double Bass – Kate Saxby
Percussions – Mark Taylor @taylormapps
Keynoards – Jonathan Williams
STRATFORD Music performed live by:
Clarinet – Adam Cross @AdamPCross
Trumpet – Angela Whelan @angela_whelan
Guitar – Nick Lee
Double Bass – Dave Storer
Percussions – James Jones @jjperc
Keyboards – Jonathan Williams
Writer – Tom Morton-Smith @tommortonsmith
Director – Angus Jackson @angusjac
Designer – Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting – Paul Anderson
Music – Grant Olding @grantolding
Sound – Christopher Shutt
Movement – Scott Ambler
Richard Lodge @richardwlodge DSM
Rufus McDermott @redlockrasta props for the play
The RSC @TheRSC
RSC Press Office @RSCPress
The RSC Key @TheRSCKey
1939: fascism spreads across Europe, Franco marches on Barcelona and two German chemists discover the processes of atomic fission. In Berkeley, California, theoretical physicists recognise the horrendous potential of this new science: a weapon that draws its power from the very building blocks of the universe. The ambitious and charismatic J Robert Oppenheimer finds himself uniquely placed to spearhead the largest scientific undertaking in all of human history.
Determined to cast off his radical past and struggling with tempestuous relationships with his colleagues, wife and mistress, Oppenheimer finds himself thrust into a position of power, racing to create a weapon so devastating that it would bring about an end not just to the Second World War, but to all war.
LINKS & SOURCES
Doc file with “Oppenheimer Introduction – Characters and Costumes“
Actor Jack Holden official website: jackholden.net
Actor Andrew Langtree official website: andylangtree
Actor Oliver Johnstone is not on Twitter, but there’s a fan account: @
Musician Adam Cross official website: adamcross.com
Musician Mark Taylor blog: taylormapps.com
Musician Angela Whelan official website: fineartsbrass.com
Rehearsals and Production Pictures (from Stratford)
Other pictures on Geraint Lewis official site geraint-lewis.photoshelter.com
TRAILERS & CLIPS from Youtube & RSC
Trailer of the production in Stratford
Trailers of the production in London
What the audience thinks (Stratford)
Oppenheimer and the Bomb panel discussion (Institute of Physics)
Summary – Director Angus Jackson describes the story of Oppenheimer