Operation Epsilon

“.....a must see of current theatre

What happened when 11 German scientists were locked away in Britain at the end of WW2 right as the Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima?

That's what this play asks, and more so can you have "pure science" without a political agenda?

This is a thought provoking play packed with historical embellishment while also being full of modern moral questions. The history of Germany's smartest nuclear scientists being held in Farm Hall in 1945 leaves the audience asking: if something was researched "just for science" can the scientists absolve themselves of responsibility when monsters use their discoveries in warfare?

Right as our world is introduced to AI, science versus morality is once again a headline topic. Operation Epsilon pours itself into these deep conversations of the same timeless horror. Featuring the great minds of Otto Hans and Werner Heisenberg, the ethical issues surrounding their atomic research (knowing it could be used as a weapon) is paramount to this play.

There were some very difficult topics raised during the show which put every character's choices in the spotlight. I kept having to ask myself, "how would I feel" or "how might I navigate that"?

Creatively written by Alan Brody, the script was inspired by the real transcripts. That said, much of the characters' personalities came from personal discussion and research. I found them to be believable, realistic and well developed. Knowing that this was based on real people discussing real events brought a pathos to each scene.

This was enhanced by the direction of Andy Sandberg who helped bring the script to stage. The chemistry of the cast was clear as scenes were handled with grace - even in their anger. The stage was well balanced with the space used effectively.

There couldn't have been a bad seat in the house as the set design by Janie E Howland was expertly done and looked incredible. This included an added side section which made up the Major's office, and the upstairs bedrooms.

As always, the venue were fantastic. The Southwark Playhouse Elephant are very accomodating, and have gender neutral facilities and various accessible provisions.

In future it would be great to see this show feature some embedded accessiblity, such as captioning or audio description, so that the history is open to more people. As this play displays a hidden side to such an important conversation, I would love for this to be made more accessible so more people can enage.

Regarding the perspective of the actors on stage, there was not a squeeky wheel on this train of collaborators. When speaking with the director after the show, he mentioned that he doesn't feel there are any small parts in the play, and I'm inclined to agree. Even with all eleven characters on stage at times, each one had a voice and worked in tandem with the rest of the cast.

In particular I would add that the emotional range shown by Nathaniel Parker, Gyuri Sarossy and Simon Chandler were incredibly impressive. I feel these characters were given a wider variety of emotion to show and I was particularly drawn to them.

As historical dramas are often displayed by the victor, this was comforting to see an alternative viewpoint to history. At first I found it interesting that the German characters had English accents, but I discovered this made the play more about the words and thoughtful issues than the dialect they spoke. I actually feel that should the creative team have asked the actors to use German accents this would have detracted and alienated its audience.

Operation Epsilon is running until the 21st October 2023 at The Southwark Playhouse Elephant and is a must see of current theatre. I look forward to see where this goes in future and expect it to reach many audiences.

This show was reviewed on the 21st September 2023.  Tickets for Operation Epsilon can be purchased here: Operation Epsilon - Southwark Playhouse

Review written by Ryan Lenney

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Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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