Warwick

Monað modes lust mæla gehĂ┐ylce ferð to feran.

The Physicists

The Physicists - Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt, Joel Agee
The fact is, there's nothing more scandalous than a miracle in the realm of science.




Three of history's greatest physicists meet in a drawing-room: Newton, Einstein and Möbius. Newton has a bottle of cognac hidden in the fireplace. Einstein has just strangled a woman to death. And Möbius is being visited by the ghost of King Solomon, who is telling him the secrets of a Unified Field Theory.

Except the drawing-room belongs to a Swiss insane asylum, and the three men are patients.

What follows is a playful mash-up of a country-house murder-mystery with a scientific drama-of-ideas. At first the execution reminded me of Tom Stoppard – high praise round my way, because I think Stoppard's one of the greatest writers alive. But while Stoppard's work is always discursive, and never tries to convince you of a particular position, Dürrenmatt takes a more polemic approach here – especially in the second act, where the characters are increasingly fixated on the dangers of scientific discoveries falling into the wrong hands.

She considered me an unrecognized genius. She didn't realize that today it is the duty of a genius to remain unrecognized.


Great line. Of course when this was first performed in 1962, the Cold War was still on and this felt more of a live issue. It was less than 20 years since the real Einstein had famously said that if he'd known what the results of nuclear research would be, he would have become a watchmaker. (He also said, ‘The discovery of nuclear chain reactions need not bring about the destruction of mankind any more than did the discovery of matches,’ but no one remembers that one.)

These are still crucial questions, but I think the sophistication of the debate has slightly overtaken the moral of this play. Nevertheless, there is a huge amount of fun and intellectual enjoyment to be had here, with jokes and theories and interesting dramatic ideas on every page. I'd love to see it staged – but if waiting for your local theatre to get on board seems daunting, the ideas involved make this well worth reading in the meantime.

Currently reading

Emir Abd El-Kader: Hero and Saint of Islam
Gustavo Polit, Eric Geoffroy, Ahmed Bouyerdene
Progress: 70 %