First came the euphoria of VE Day in May 1945. People rejoiced after six long years of war came to an end. The first summer of peacetime ambled gently into view. But war was still raging in the Far East. Come August an atomic bomb will land in Hiroshima and provoke Japan’s unconditional surrender. The aftershock would be equally felt at Farm Hall in the Cambridgeshire countryside. Six of Germany’s top nuclear scientists have been detained at the mansion following their capture by allied forces.
Known collectively as Hitler’s ‘Uranium Club’ they gradually adjust to their surroundings. They half-heartedly rehearse for their own production of Blythe Spirit. Redacted newspapers and a hastily repaired piano are the only other sources of amusement. The group have their own peculiar cliques but is frequently split according to age and status. Hahn (Forbes Masson) is the linchpin who discovered nuclear fission, a process that made the atomic bomb possible. Von Laue (David Yelland) is the elder statesman who won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Diebner (Julius D’Silva) was a leading member of the Nazi Party; while Heizenberg (Alan Cox) is another Nobel Prize winner and mentor to Bagge (Archie Backhouse). Weizsacker (Daniel Boyd), a younger member of the group comes from a well-connected, influential family.
Farm Hall has a natural shine because it is based on a true story, and there is a self-contained drama within the story itself. When news of the attack on Hiroshima breaks, an intense period of self- analysis and contemplation begins. Far from being Hitler’s henchmen, they were outstanding scientists charged with harnessing the power of uranium. Do they feel guilt at the destruction they’ve helped create, or frustration that someone else has finished the job they started? The comfort of confinement leaves them nowhere to hide; they have no choice but to face the consequences of an all too real devastation.
Aside from being superbly acted and brilliantly written, Farm Hall poses some uncomfortable questions about science, and how much can be justified in the name of progress. All inventions can be used for good or evil; just in the same way that uranium can be used as both a source of energy and destruction. Debutant playwright Katherine Moar has fashioned an intelligent and engrossing narrative. The only downer is the use of scientific jargon (‘C02 globules’ anyone?). Which could make it challenging for those of us who hid at the back of the science lab at school?
Review by Brian Penn
Seat: D11 | Price of Ticket: £35/£31 concessions