Written by Michael Frayn

September 2021

Directed by Jacquie Penrose

AuthorMichael Frayn

Michael Frayn

Playwright, novelist and translator Michael Frayn was born in London on 8 September 1933.

After two years National Service, during which he learned Russian, he read Philosophy at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He then worked as a reporter and columnist for The Guardian and The Observer, publishing several novels including The Tin Men (1965), winner of a Somerset Maugham Award, The Russian Interpreter (1966), which won the Hawthornden Prize, and Towards the End of the Morning (1967). More recent novels include A Landing on the Sun (1991), which won the Sunday Express Book of the Year; Headlong (1999), the story of the discovery of a lost painting by Bruegel, shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction; and Spies (2002), a story of childhood set in England during the Second World War. Spies won the 2002 Whitbread Novel Award and the 2003 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia region, Best Book), and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Book of the Year. His most recent novel is Skios (2012) a comic novel on a case of mistaken identity. Michael Frayn is also the recipient of the 2002 Heywood Hill Literary Prize.

His plays include Alphabetical Order (1975), Clouds (1976), Donkeys' Years (1977), Make or Break (1980), Noises Off (1982) and Benefactors (1984).

Copenhagen (1998), about the 1941 meeting between German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his Danish counterpart Niels Bohr, first staged at the Royal National Theatre in London, won the 1998 Evening Standard Award for Best Play of the Year and the 2000 Tony Award for Best Play (USA). His play Democracy (2003), is set in 1960s Berlin. His latest play for the Royal National Theatre is Afterlife (2008).

Recent books are Stage Directions: Writing on Theatre 1970-2008 (2008), and Travels with a Typewriter(2009). A book of memoir, My Father's Fortune: A Life, was published in 2010, was shortlisted for the 2010 Costa Biography Award, and won the 2011 PEN/Ackerley Prize.

He has also translated a number of works from Russian, including plays by Chekhov and Tolstoy. His films for television include First and Last (1989), for which he won an Emmy, and an adaptation of his 1991 novel A Landing on the Sun. He also wrote the screenplay for the film Clockwise (1986), a comedy starring John Cleese.

Michael Frayn is married to the biographer and critic Claire Tomalin.


Friendship, loyalty, betrayal – and the moral duty of scientists in times of peace and war. These themes are grippingly explored in Michael Frayn's COPENHAGEN, a play that pivots around the historic meeting between two ground-breaking physicists in occupied Denmark in 1941.

The Bench Production

Copenhagen Poster Image

This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre (formerly Havant Arts Centre), East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Margrethe Bohr Sarah Ash
Niels Bohr David Penrose
Werner Heisenberg Steven Foden


Director Jacquie Penrose
Stage Manager Sharman Callam
Lighting Design Andrew Caple
Sound Design Howard Alston
Lighting Operation Ben Tanner
Sound Operation Kerrie Thirlwell
Set Design Jacquie Penrose
Set Painting David Penrose
Rehearsal Prompt Ruth Prior
Flyer Design Dan Finch
Programme Editor Derek Callam
Photography Sharman Callam

Director's Notes

Why choose to direct Copenhagen? On one level it could appear unappealing – three dead people talking about physics. That's true, but that's not it. It is the kind of play that always draws me in – big important issues dramatized through character, personal relationships and moral uncertainty. The focus of Frayn's play is the historic meeting in 1941 between two famous physicists – Werner Heisenberg, a German, and Niels Bohr, a Dane. Before the war they had been leaders in their fields, colleagues, both Nobel Prize winners, and friends.

In 1941, Bohr was in occupied Denmark; Heisenberg, then working for the German nuclear programme, was from the occupying nation. The meeting broke the friendship, but no one, not even the protagonists, could ever give a satisfactory account of what actually took place, despite endless interrogations, researches and publications. Frayn the playwright gives them one last chance to try and unravel the complexities of their situation, in the company of Bohr's wife Margrethe. Their imaginary encounter in the afterlife ranges across their relationships, and revisits the deeply challenging questions they faced in life; Heisenberg the German scientist asks if you should love your country less because it happens to be in the wrong? Who is more guilty – Heisenberg, who did not build nuclear weapons despite having the opportunity, or Bohr, who escaped from Denmark, joined the Manhattan Project and contributed to the development and use of nuclear weapons? If a child is drowning, do you dive in to save it if you risk losing your own life as well? And what price does an intelligent, talented wife pay, devoted to a driven genius?

Bohr and Heisenberg's famous achievement was the development of the theories of uncertainty and complementarity; they are important in the play, both as physics and, perhaps more importantly, as metaphor. The play is essentially about the "core of uncertainty at the heart of all things". And complementarity; Heisenberg again – "I'm your enemy; I'm also your friend. I'm a danger to mankind; I'm also your guest. I'm a particle; I'm also a wave. We have one set of obligations to the world in general, and we have other sets, never to be reconciled, to our fellow-countrymen, to our neighbours, to our friends, to our family, to our children…"

Jacquie Penrose


Production Photographs