Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 14 News List

Heisenberg and the uncertainty principle

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The uses and abuses of physics go under the microscope in Copenhagen.


Taiwan’s theater scene is a hotbed of young playwrights, directors and actors who adapt stage scripts imported from the West.

Fantasy Theater (狂想劇場) follows in this vein with its production of Copenhagen, which begins tonight at The Bamboo Curtain Studio in Tamsui.

Unlike many theater companies that use scripts as starting points to veer off into experimental never-never land, Fantasy Theater is taking a hands-off approach.

“We don’t seek a ‘new’ interpretation,” said producer Claire Liao (廖芝涵) in an e-mail exchange. “Rather, we want to penetrate the core of the play, bringing the main ideas to light, to Taiwanese audiences.”

Although the Chinese translation of the original play, written in 1996 by Michael Frayn, will remain faithful to the original work, Fantasy Theater “cut some [remote] historical facts and uses vocabulary that is suitable for the stage rather than reading,” Liao said.

Copenhagen tells the tale of the real-life mentor/protege relationship between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, two pioneering physicists. The play’s narrative focuses on a meeting between the Nobel Prize winners in Bohr’s Copenhagen home in 1941 — a time when Germany occupied Bohr’s native Denmark and he lived in fear because he was half-Jewish.

Heisenberg’s character is ambiguous; his reputation is today hotly debated by historians, something the original script highlights. The play leaves audiences wondering if the German physicist collaborated with the Nazis in the regime’s attempt to build an atomic bomb (he was the chief scientist working on Germany’s atomic energy program).

According to the play, Bohr, whose movements were restricted, worried that the Gestapo was monitoring his apartment. When the two scientists discussed the issue of Heisenberg’s involvement in developing an atomic bomb, the pair went for a walk to avoid eavesdropping. Nobody knows what the two talked about on their brief jaunt, but upon their return the scientists severed their relationship.

The play (whose faithfulness to history has been the subject of intense debate) raises questions about Heisenberg’s motive for visiting Bohr, patriotism, science and history.

“History, even if it contains a lot of conflicts and controversies, can provide people with a way to reflect [on] themselves,” Liao said. “In meditating [on] the broader, historical existence, we can break away from … shortsightedness.”

Copenhagen will be performed at The Bamboo Curtain Studio (竹簾工作室), 36, Ln 88, Jhongjheng E Rd Sec 2, Tamsui, Taipei County (台北縣淡水鎮中正東路二段88巷36號), today, tomorrow and Sunday at 7:30pm. NT$350 tickets are available through NTCH ticketing.

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