Sandy Pritchard-Gordon

Sandy Pritchard-Gordon
Theatre Blog

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Physicists at The Donmar

The Physicists is a rather strange choice for The Donmar.  This absurdist drama by Friedrich Durrenmatt in a new version by Jack Thorne is an entertaining piece up to a point but ultimately rather dissatisfying.

The play is set in a Swiss sanatorium where to be a nurse is a dangerous occupation, as they are systematically being “bumped off”.  It turns out that the perpetrators are a couple of patients.  One who imagines (or does he?) that he is Sir Isaac Newton and the other pertaining to be Albert Einstein.  During the course of the play a third nurse bites the dust.  This time her murderer is a third inmate, a scientific genius by the name of Johann Wilhelm Mobius who thinks he is haunted by King Solomon.  Strangely, Mathilde von Zahnd, the Doctor in charge appears to be unperturbed by these goings on and Detective Inspector Richard Voss completely at sea. 

The action takes place against a backdrop of a wall of closed white doors;  as Alice would say, “curiouser and curiouser”.  It isn’t until the end of the play that we learn what these characters are really up to and, by then, I’m afraid it is rather too little, too late.  Not that there aren’t some fun moments, due in the main to Newton, campily brought to life by a very funny Justin Salinger and the always wonderful Sophie Thompson as the grotesque hunchback Doctor.   Meanwhile John Heffernan as Mobius breaks down very convincingly during a visit from his wife and two children and one almost becomes involved in what’s going on;  almost being the operative word.  Ultimately the one-dimensional characters fail to illicit much sympathy despite their valiant efforts.

I am an avid fan of the Donmar Warehouse and hate having to admit that this time Josie Rourke has directed what for me is a less than satisfying play.  

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