The play was originally in German Thomas Warwick

As a scientist myself, I suppose one of many great compliments I can pay this often nuanced and frequently gripping production of “The Physicists” is that it left me wondering why I had never felt compelled to kill anyone myself. Certainly, if I don’t murder the next person I see, I will encourage them to watch director Iain Blackwell’s version of Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s fascinating satirical drama, so that they too can enjoy the fine acting on display.

The play is set in a Swiss psychiatric hospital run by Dr von Zahnd (Naomi Wilson). She and her nurses are charged with the care of three psychiatrists: Mobius (Henry Phillips), Herbert Beutler (believing himself to be Isaac Newton, Sophie Sheera) and Ernst Ernesti (believing himself to be Albert Einstein, Annabelle Haworth). The latter two have each murdered the nurses charged with their care, and the play opens with the crime scene associated with the most recent killing. Inspector Voss (Benedict Mulcare) demonstrates a variety of fantastical facial expressions, each less necessary than the last, whilst his use of a cane suggested he could perhaps have done with watching Hugh Laurie’s eponymous character in House.

Certain gestures or mannerisms appear forced or even unnecessary, but I did notice this tended to improve as the show went on.

A rather slapstick introduction eventually gives way to a subtle and engrossing exploration of the nature of madness. Phillips gives an excellent performance as Mobius, suffering delusionary visions of King Solomon, and his evocative and quite heart-rendering conversation with his beloved nurse (Maya Achan) leaves us tangibly shaken at its inexorable conclusion. The death is beautifully understated (thank God!), and thus Blackwell’s direction avoids the hammy screams and bordering comical yelps many other student plays portraying homicide often succumb to. In general, the direction is noticeably excellent, but certain scenes, often those involving members of the supporting cast, come across as slightly amateurish. Certain gestures or mannerisms appear forced or even unnecessary, but I did notice this tended to improve as the show went on.

The actors playing the physicists do remarkably well. Across the neutrally coloured and clinical looking set, their individual insanities collide and meld organically; the scene in which Einstein walks in on Mobius and his nurse discussing their love being a particularly notable success in this regard. Indeed, in the (entirely unpredictable but not incredible) final revelatory scene, the individually unique faces of pure anguish and terror painted on each actor’s face are really quite stunning and impressive to behold: Mobius declares they are “wild beasts, not to be let loose on humanity”, and Phillips excellent performance throughout mean that the audience are left undeniably shaken by this resolute indictment of their characters. Their performances, it must be noted, are enhanced by some excellent lighting (Emma Pruin), which comes off as well rehearsed and effective.


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Mountain View

The Tempest review

The play isn’t perfect. Haworth taking painfully long to take out a gun during one scene is almost comical, which is perhaps ironic given that I don’t think this play got anywhere near the number of laughs its dark satire should have, perhaps a consequence of a small opening night crowd. I hope future performances draw much larger ones: this production certainly deserves them.

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