“Why are you still talking to me?”
As a vehicle to launch the new producing venture, Elliott & Harper Productions, Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle is an odd thing. A new play by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott, it’s a piece of writing that feels caught in the wrong moment as the outpouring of revelations around sexual harassment (and worse) threaten a tectonic shift in gender relationships and, hopefully, the way they are portrayed in our culture.
Thus it feels hard to accept a retread of the May-to-December trope, weighted in favour of the older man getting a younger woman natch, and the re-emergence of the manic pixie dream girl in lieu of the more nuanced character hinted at beneath the eccentric trappings. There’s no subversion of expectation as a rather predictable plot winds through its 90 minutes and the suggestion of quantum physics informing the play feels more like window-dressing compared to the structural ingenuity of say Copenhagen or the chaos theory-influenced Constellations.
A quality cast take us some way into the emotional world created by Stephens. Anne-Marie Duff’s Georgie and Kenneth Cranham’s Alex have a random meet-cute in a crowded St Pancras station and through her doggedness, end up pursuing an amour de fou. Both actors chime well together but they’re often lumbered with lumberingly portentous dialogue that saps the pace from the play and the life from the production – it gets very hard to care about them.
It looks fantastic though – Bunny Christie’s shifting set design in its ultra-modern minimalism is vibrantly, gorgeously, lit by Paule Constable to vivid effect. And the piano of Nils Frahm’s score is a suitably cerebral and atmospheric accompaniment. But enough now, enough of stories about men getting women half their age, it is time to redress the balance. Stronger roles for older women, a reappraisal of the sexual dynamic that dominates the cultural discourse, an exploration of the damage that it has undoubtedly done to the way men have treated, and are still treating, women. I suspect Elliott is someone who would agree with much of this – I hope to see future programming that reflects it.