For various reasons I was unable to go and see Oppenheimer in Stratford, so I was thrilled when the RSC announced that they would be transferring the production to the West End. Playwright Tom Morton-Smith’s work, which follows US physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer as he goes from university professor to head of the Manhattan Project at the secret Los Alamos research complex, is showing at the Vaudeville Theatre for a limited time.
I had worried that the science would be a bit too much for me, and I must admit that there were some parts that I didn’t understand and that went over my head. However, there was plenty more in the piece to engage me, from Oppenheimer’s complex relationships with women to the increasing suspicion with which anyone with Communist sympathies was viewed. The end of the play, which engaged uncompromisingly with the horrors of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan, will stay with me for a long time.
In the lead role, John Heffernan is outstanding as his confident professor persona grows increasingly doubtful and haunted as he comes to realise the implications of his work. A strong ensemble cast offers able support, while the simple staging transfers easily to the proscenium West End theatre. I did think that the play, at nearly three hours, was a little long, but I still thought that it was a commitment worth making.