Oppenheimer – how a loaded gun was dropped in the playground

Stratford-upon-Avon, RSC Swan Theatre 15 January until 7 March 2015,  London, Vaudeville Theatre,  27 March to 23 May 2015 A brilliant inquisitive mind, a thinker, knowledgeable in Eastern and Western philosophies, a womanizer, Oppenheimer was many things, but most of all, he revelled in the beauty of nature’s set-up.Oppenheimer production photos_ 2015_ press photocall_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_RsC.Oppie.4814 Tom Morton Smith’s new play allows the audience manifold angles from which to form their opinion, only to scramble it again, minutes later. Not a mad scientist, not a ruthless mass murderer, but then, there are moments… John Heffernan is Oppenheimer, lives and breathes Oppie, has him soft and vulnerable and utterly detached within the wink of an eye. Oppie’s team, his women, his brother, the army environment, every turning away refocuses the view on the spell that Heffernan has his character bind his world with. Jean Tatlock, Oppenheimer’s on-and-off lover, is played by Catherine Steadman and she leaves no doubt about why these two were drawn to each other, but couldn’t coexist.Oppenheimer production photos_ 2015_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_RsC.Oppie.2198 Kitty Puening Harrison (Thomasin Rand), his wife who follows him to Los Alamos, but who can’t hold him either – a very touching portrayal of just another lost soul. Oppenheimer production photos_ 2015_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_RsC.Oppie.3809But so are his co-researchers and students: Edward Teller (Ben Allen), the Hungarian super brain who was then already hatching the hydrogen bomb, Hans Bethe (Tom McCall), German refugee with a cause and the means to fulfil it, Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz (Oliver Johnstone), Bob Serber (Jamie Wilkes) and Joe Weinberg (Daniel Boyd), they all appear to be like lost electrons, buzzing about in the same space as Oppie, who is as much one of them as the attracting proton and also the splitting particle. Only Oppenheimer’s younger brother Frank (Mike Grady-Hall), his wife Jackie (Hedydd Dylan) and psychologist Ruth Tolman (Laura Cubbit) have an air of self-contained life about them. It is this meticulous depiction of human relationships in all their imperfection, that is the ensemble’s and the production’s foremost strength. Scary and stunning!Oppenheimer production photos_ 2015_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_RsC.Oppie.4034 The remarkable plainness of the realisation that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were just about making a statement and Oppenheimer’s laconic line “I feel like I’ve dropped a loaded gun in a playground”, that is perhaps all that is needed to be said about the bomb itself, though the way in which the atomic test in the desert of New Mexico is enacted and the factual description of the indescribable actual consequences of Little Boy and Fat Man are staggering moments that are bound to leave a lasting impression. A well-deserved sell-out right from the start. Director: Angus Jackson, music by Grant Olding and a striking design by James Hopkins. Photos: Keith Pattison © RSC

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