Schrodinger's Hat

Wed 29th February – Sat 3rd March 2012


Xandra Burns

at 07:11 on 1st Mar 2012



The provided description of "Schrodinger's Hat" suggests that it is a play about history and a play about physics. Well yes, but what it doesn't tell you is not a dry documentary, or even an informative play in which the viewer sits passively, expecting to be educated by the end, but an engaging and thought-provoking experience that examines relationships as well as academia, bringing social meaning to scientific concepts.

Since this is the New Writing Festival, I will praise the writing first: Leela Valautham's script is elegant, profound, chaotic, clever, funny. The humor is quiet, but hilarious. Imagine the concept of Schrodinger's Cat explained to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Paul Dirac (George Ferguson) by a nervous, yet enthusiastic student (Jahnavi Emmanuel), with a hesitant "like" inserted into each phrase. Now imagine that it's kind of her original idea.

Paul Dirac (George Ferguson) and Erwin Schrodinger’s (Fen Greatley) desks each take up a side of the stage, dividing the room by their contrasting personalities. We see Dirac focused on the precise wording of his logic, his careful equations displayed on the blackboard by his desk. Schrodinger occupies on the other side - if we can call it that, for really he springs around the room, diving under desks and hiding behind books. Ferguson and Greatley both deliver strong performances, contrasting one another by mastering Dirac's subtle humor and not over-playing the vivacious and ebullient Schrodinger. It has come to the point where I see Fen Greatley’s name on a cast list and know that I can expect a stimulating and thorough performance - this one is certainly no exception.

At points the play is confusing. I'm still not sure what the significance of the hats are, and what was said specifically during many of the conversations. This is the nature of the play, however - Dirac and Schrodinger are puzzled, working things out, and so are we. We experience their perplexity and their triumphs in those few moments of sheer clarity. As Dirac articulates: "When those ideas resonate into one - it's wonderful."

Rather than try to understand every line spoken, it is more effective to observe the contrasting tones and personalities in each exchange. The script is a series of overlapping encounters, of heated conversations between two broken by effective pauses. So much of the play centers around rapid overlapping speech, letting the characters' emotions pour out in passionate dialogue as they interrupt each other, drowning out speech. Every now and then a phrase can be heard, each as witty and amusing as the last we are able to catch. Throughout this chaos, there is always a sense of presence and the ever-necessary urgency that keeps theatre relevant. Director Tom Elliott shapes the energy that drives and the play, capturing the subtleties of the language and the effect of how it is delivered.

There are a few performance setbacks. While the cast is strong for the most part, I am not convinced by Jahnavi Emmanuel and Charlotte Huber completely. While Huber has her comic moments and Emmanuel at times captures perfectly the relatable role of uncertain student, their performances are ultimately contrived; they seem too eager to act like they're acting instead of falling into their roles. Also, it does not take long to realize that the entire backstage space is behind two black panels at the back; knowledge of the remaining cast's presence becomes a bit distracting, a small reminder that though there are many outstanding aspects of this production, it does not pass for professional.

Overall, though, "Schrodinger's Hat" is a fine production of an outstanding play. There are so many clever moments of writing that I am tempted to share here, but really they are best witnessed in person in the context. I left the theatre still pondering, thinking that maybe I had understood the point of the play, but I couldn't quite articulate it. Perhaps that process of thinking, reasoning, trying to understand IS the point of it. I have seen my fair share of confusing plays that I dismissed immediately as not worth my time - "Schrodinger's Hat" is worth it. When I yearn to see the play again to see if I can pick up more of it through the fast-paced overlapping dialogue? It's so worth it.


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