Simon Stephens is a critically acclaimed playwright. Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham are compelling, powerful actors. And Marianne Elliott is a Tony Award winning director, with triumphs like War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to her name.
Why, then, is this collaboration between these four superstars such an abject disappointment?
Heisenberg is supposedly all about uncertainty, a grand theme encompassing the unpredictability of relationships and the fickleness of people. Unfortunately, what is actually performed is a standard (and slightly icky) rom-com between a much older man (Alex, played by Cranham) and an American manic pixie dream-girl (Georgie, played by Duff). He is reticent and brooding, she is hyperactive and persistent, and eventually they end up in bed together. Barring a half-hearted twist two thirds in, it’s about as unpredictable as a Hugh Grant film.
Cranham and Duff do their best with a bad lot – his expressions are priceless, her energy is impressive, and they both have excellent comic timing. But they’re working against a script that repeatedly misses the mark. People talk frankly about their emotions, but the writing isn’t strong enough to make you invested in the characters, so it’s hard to care. There’s also too much that’s left unsaid, with the audience expected to work out what’s motivating these mismatched souls.
As for the “uncertainty principle”, don’t expect any great insights into science or psychology. Heisenberg himself is name-dropped once, but it’s not really apparent why, and any kind of scientific theme is quickly forgotten.
The only redeeming feature is the set, designed by Bunny Christie (who also worked on Curious Incident). Furniture materialises from the floor of the sparse stage, the ceiling moves against a backdrop of psychedelic lights, and at one point the walls literally close in on Duff – a not-very-subtle metaphor, but it looks cool.
When the set is the only saving grace of your production, however, you’re in trouble: Heisenberg may have had rave reviews on Broadway, but don’t be fooled: the only certainty here is that you should avoid it altogether.