The Theatreguide.London Review
The Uncertainty Principle
Wyndham's Theatre Autumn-Winter 2017
There is a large sub-genre of romantic comedy movies in which a kookie free-spirited girl invades the life of a dullish ordinary guy, takes him on some wild adventure that scares the hell out of him, but gradually loosens him up so he's having fun by the end.
Playwright Simon Stephens offers a major twist on the formula and gives it new depth simply by making the characters older.
A 75-year-old man is killing time in a railway station, contentedly watching the world go by, when he is accosted by an attractive and garrulous 42-year old woman.
As she jabbers away about everything and nothing, he is annoyed and intrigued in equal proportions, and when she visits his shop a few days later, he finds himself drawn into both her manic energy and her undertones of unhappiness and need.
What happens then is what the genre demands, adjusted interestingly for the characters' greater depth.
He, we learn, consciously chose an emotionally isolated life after youthful losses and heartbreaks, while she is drifting without an emotional anchor as a result of being abandoned by those she loved.
At one point she cites Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to describe her rootlessness, taking some comfort from the thought that it is a law of nature and not a personal failing that makes her unable to be sure where she is or where she's going.
Making the characters older and deeper forces other changes in the rom-com formula. As attractive a woman as actress Anne-Marie Duff is, the absence of the typical heroine's bouncy youth makes her come across in the early scenes less as adorably kookie than as annoyingly and perhaps frighteningly crazy.
It is only as we gradually discover the character's pains and her hunger for the kind of steadiness the older man represents that she begins to become sympathetic.
And as a more settled character than the typical genre hero, Kenneth Cranham must take the man believably through a more conscious and deliberate process of changing.
It is very much to the credit of both performers, and to director Marianne Elliott, that both characters transcend their generic templates to become believable individuals while their adventure moves past rom-com formula to moving drama.
Mention must be made of Bunny Christie's design, a plain white box whose moving walls change its shape and size to evoke and reflect the characters' shifting emotional states.
Heisenberg is a rom-com for grown-ups, stretching and reshaping the genre to take it into new emotional territory.
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