Review: The Bomb - A Partial History

By John Nathan, February 23, 2012
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Tricycle Theatre, London NW6

The fear is back. As Iran is said to get ever closer to producing a nuclear weapon, a new generation is learning to live not only with the old threat of annihilation, but the new threat of a conventional war waged to prevent a scary Islamic regime from getting hold of the bomb.

This well-timed cycle of nine short atom-bomb plays, written by as many playwrights and staged in two parts, begins with two nervous Jews. Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch are the German- and Austrian-born physicists who we see in Whitehall in 1940, waiting to warn the British that the Nazis are a lot closer to the atom bomb than previously thought. We next see them at the end of the evening, only this time resurrected as nuclear inspectors whose job is to find evidence of weapons-building at an Iranian nuclear plant. And between the two halves of Zinnie Harris's play we learn a lot about the philosophical and political challenges posed by the existence of the bomb.

Colin Teevan's intriguing if over-wrought offering is set in the aftermath of an Iranian scientist's assassination in Tehran. He is the victim of an Israeli plot hatched by an Iranian-born Israeli agent who uses his sister - a physicist living in Zurich - to unwittingly infect Iran's nuclear programme with a computer virus. It is one of the few short plays here that feels complete.

Contributions by playwrights Ron Hutchinson and David Greig meanwhile depict British prime ministers struggling with the possibility of having to kill more people in a retaliatory strike than were murdered by the world's biggest war criminals.

There is no doubt that the Tricycle's latest multi-play production is a deeply thought-provoking project. Its weakness is that, despite the satirical interludes, it provokes the same thought several times over. By the time Amit Gupta's poignant offering tackles the subject from an Indian perspective, we have already heard the arguments expressed by leaders and scientists of other nations.

Still, in his final production as the Tricycle's artistic director, Nicolas Kent expertly prevents the marathon from becoming a stamina-sapping event. Although after 28 years in the job, it would have been nice to see Kent, who has made such a huge contribution to British and, it has to be said, Jewish theatre, go out with a bigger bang than his bomb production delivers.

Tel: 020 7328 1000

    Last updated: 11:59am, February 23 2012