Farm Hall ★★★★ Jermyn Street Theatre | Mar 9 - Apr 8, 2023

A play about six physicists talking – it's an unlikely premise for drama, but it proves to be a fascinating evening. Based on true events, Farm Hall looks at the experience of six of Germany's scientific elite who were held in a home in the Cambridge countryside at the end of WWII. Cut off from communication with the outside world, their activities were limited and their conversations were recorded. Katherine Moar's debut play is composed of moments illuminating their characters, their interpersonal dynamics and their views on everything from the connection between science and politics to their taste in music and games. Discussion wanders from imagining the love story of their unseen guardian to imagining a world in which Germany develops the atomic bomb. However, that conversation takes on a darker tone when news of the Americans' use of such a weapon is announced. The complex relationship between science and politics and the scientist's individual moral responsibility for pushing the boundaries of knowledge are called into question. The ensemble cast doesn't miss a note and this sextet works together brilliantly. Alan Cox as the cool, enigmatic Heisenberg, who may have inhibited the progress of the Nazis to build the bomb, plays off beautifully against Forbes Masson's affable Hahn who takes some personal responsibility for discovering nuclear fission. Archie Backhouse rings sympathetically true as Heisenberg's acolyte, Bagge, who almost accidentally joins the Nazi party and is trapped by his working class origins. His character stands in contrast to Daniel Boyd's privileged Weizsäcker whose family can protect him from the regime. The bass notes are brought in by David Yelland as Von Laue who vocally objected to the Nazis, and Julius D'Silva's Diebner who openly supported the regime. The six of them create a chamber piece that both soars and challenges. Moar's thought-provoking counterpointing of these six characters makes for an exploration of some fascinating motifs and themes that resonate for today's world. Farm Hall proves the theorem: six physicists talking can make for very intriguing theatre.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Alex Brenner.

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