British playwright Simon Stephens has woven a touching, humorous and fascinating play based on a simple idea. Two people meet in a London railway station as a result of a woman kissing a man. They seem to have nothing in common but we will find out a great deal and want to know a lot more over the eighty or so minutes of the play.
But we need to deal with the title first – Heisenberg. The play has something to do with the Uncertainty Principle which was formulated by Herr Heisenberg in 1926. If we saw Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen and are devotees of the Big Bang Theory we are practically theoretical physicists. We (I am either pregnant or preparing for my next job as a king) then metaphorically reach for Wikipedia where Werner Heisenberg makes the Uncertainty Principle perfectly clear:
David Schurmann and Carly Street. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
It can be expressed in its simplest form as follows: One can never know with perfect accuracy both of those two important factors which determine the movement of one of the smallest particles—its position and its velocity. It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the direction and speed of a particle at the same instant.
Sadly, therefore, we can never figure out exactly the location of a particle (whatever that is) driving on the Don Valley Parkway, its speed or direction. If you are stopped for speeding on the DVP just remind the officer of Hesienberg’s Uncertainty Principle and demand that he shove the ticket up Highway 404.
Having a vague idea about the Uncertainty Principle is of some interest and it does force you to think about the play but it is not essential. Heisenberg is about two people. Georgie (Carly Street) is a forty-two year old woman from New Jersey who finds herself in London. Alex (David Schurmann) is a seventy-five year old butcher in London and they are, not surprisingly very different people.
Georgie is attractive, impulsive, lively and talkative as she reveals herself and draws Alex out. He is a reserved English gentleman, upstanding, sophisticated and a lover of music. The idea that he may be an uncultured chopper of meat disappears quickly.
In many ways this is a play about a May-December courtship but Stephens weaves the story delicately with some exquisite needlework. He avoids the obvious humour that can be used to buttress a slender plot and maintains our attention. We are interested in Georgie and Alex.
Carly Street gives a fine performance as George. She is sexually attractive but also intelligent, a bit mysterious in her approach of kissing a stranger on the back of his neck and off the wall. She is the catalyst of the relationship.
Schurmann’s performance gives us the subtle, elusive Alex who is taken aback and attracted to this strange woman. A fine-tuned performance.
The play is done on a square wooden platform with a rotating circle in the centre designed by Teresa Przybylski. The moving circle provides a fine metaphor for the world and the uncertainty, if you will, of where Georgie and Alex are at any given moment as they perform their dance of search, discovery and romance.
The whole thing is choreographed by director Matthew Jocelyn in his last season as Artistic and General Director of Canadian Stage. His tenure has been ambitious with the inevitable ups and downs but his vision of moving us into new theatrical grounds has been unflinching. Only kudos for his production of Heisenberg. As to his future whereabouts, just apply the Uncertainty Principle.
Heisenberg by Simon Stephens in a production by Canadian Stage runs from November 28 to December 17 2017 at the Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ont. www.canstage.com