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Review: Strindberg's The Father at Trafalgar Studios 2

Review: RSC's superb Oppenheimer comes to London

Photo: Keith Pattison

J Robert 'Oppy' Oppenheimer (John Hefferenan), the father of the atomic bomb, is gregarious, a lover of women, leans politically towards the communist party and is highly driven by his work.

This is a multi-layered play about science, academia, politics and humanity and Oppy has to grapple with them all.

The play starts pre-war with Oppy as a lecturer with political leanings. A man who likes to socialise, has a lover and hangs out with card holding members of the communist party. When the war begins to rage he is employed by the Government to work on a bomb that could bring things to an end. Ensconced on a secret military encampment in New Mexico with the sole purpose of developing the weapon with a team of fellow academics, he comes under scrutiny and suspicion over his politics.

While all this is going on he falls in love with a married woman, has an affair and becomes a father. He is a man with many pressures and conflicts. The military that run the camp have a different way of working and running things to the academics. They also don't like many of his friends and associates and wield a great deal of influence over who stays and where some ultimately end up.

The skills and knowledge he has only give him so much power and influence and he is often put in a difficult position and under political and moral pressure. He is reminded that the longer the project takes the more American soldiers die. And then there comes the growing realisation that success will also result in many deaths and yet, getting the science to work is exciting for him.

Tom Morton-Smith's play brilliantly interweaves the science and human story, the moral dilemmas Oppy and his team face. For those who struggle with science, like me, it is presented in such a way so that you can grasp the basics. Crucially it is presented in an imaginative and dynamic way using chalk and projections. There are a few equations (top marks to the cast for learning them) but not so many as to put the maths-phobic into a cold sweat.

It is the human story that shines. Oppy is a fascinating character surrounded by interesting people. He is someone you enjoy spending time, thanks in great part to Heffernan's committed and sensitive performance.

The production is fast-paced so that you don't notice the 2 hours 40 minutes (plus interval) running time - it reminded me a little of Wolf Hall in that respect but Oppenheimer has a more inventive and fun staging.

It's one of those plays that satisfies many appetites - politics, history and drama - and you'll inevitably come out having learned something new and certainly have a lot to think about.

You can catch it at the Vaudeville Theatre until May 23.


I'm sure I've used this one before but JH was in The Emperor and Galilean with BW friend and acting buddy Andrew Scott