Review: From Elsewhere: the message…, Tricycle Theatre

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – First Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

“One kilo, a bag of sugar…you could make a bomb with THAT”

Set in a Whitehall antechamber in 1940, the opening play in the first part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history is Zinnie Harris’ From Elsewhere: the message…. Scientists Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch have been conducting research in their laboratory in Birmingham looking at the discoveries of other people working in the field of trying achieve effective nuclear fission and hit upon a massive discovery. But as they wait to be admitted to the War Committee to give their revelation which has the potential to utterly change the course of the war, doubts creep in as to whether they, two expat Germanic Jews will be taken seriously.

What emerges is an intermittently fascinating tale that takes us through the early years of nuclear research and the slow realisation of the terrible power that the work that these physicists are carrying out will wield in the wrong hands. The race for knowledge was happening in several places, but it was Peierls’ fleeing from Germany where he had been working with the world-leader in atomic research Niel Bohr and subsequently sharing his knowledge with Frisch’s own advances that proved the critical moment. This is all described rather entertainingly, interspersed with their nervousness at having such a responsibility on their hands in such an unfriendly environment – as underlined by Simon Chandler’s sniffy clerk.

Rick Warden and Daniel Rabin both brought wonderfully nerdish life to their characters, as men completely unused to the stuffy, dusty surroundings of the corridors of power and the ridiculous strictness of archaic English bureaucracy and overall, the piece did its job well if wearing its slightness a little too much at times. Though once you have seen the second half of the whole experience, it does make a lot more sense as Harris has written the final piece of the second half of the evening which seeks to bring everything round full circle.

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