Gielgud Theatre, London W1
Opened 5 February, 2002

***** Beautiful blend of ideas and emotion

Charlotte Jones's play transfers from the National Theatre to the West End with its smart head and its big, puzzled but so engaging heart.

As with works like Stoppard's Arcadia and Frayn's Copenhagen, Jones's play takes big scientific ideas and makes them theatrically palatable. In this case, Simon Russell Beale as Felix Humble is a theoretical astrophysicist working on string theory, which aims to unite the very big (General Relativity) with the very small (quantum theory). Similarly, Felix is groping in his own life for the "eureka moment" which will bring his intellect and his emotions into harmony; his self-centred mother prepares to remarry to a vulgarian, and Felix cradles the urn containing his amateur apiarist father's ashes rather than holding the daughter he does not know he has.

The joy of the play is that it is incredibly clever, with scientific and entomological data, dense wordplay and discreet Shakespearean allusions all woven together, but quite unostentatiously and always in the service of the human, emotional side of things. Beale's performance, excellent as ever, is matched by that of Felicity Kendal as his mother; minor characters may be written without the same subtlety and complexity, but nothing detracts from the splendour of a play at once intelligent and deeply feeling.

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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