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Two mystery plays: One about science, one about murder

A heavy-duty play "Copenhagen" about science and morality and an Agatha Christie classic "Appointment with Death" will be staged next week. Both are mysterious, reports Michelle Zhang.

For those who want a play of substance, not just a feather-weight comedy, "Copenhagen" to be staged next week by Beijing's National Theater Company of China is not to be missed.

Written by British playwright and novelist Michael Frayn, the story touches topics like science, politics, moral standards and patriotism.

Two men - not two ordinary men, but legendary physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg - talk in a vague spiritual world about the complex relationship they have in their earthly existence. The two scientists' work was foundational in quantum mechanics and in atomic physics.

Science brought them together yet politics divided them: Once they were colleagues and close friends in Bohr's institute in Copenhagen, with Bohr serving as a mentor to Heisenberg.

However, things changed during World War II as the two chose different sides. The half-Jewish Bohr remained in Denmark while Heisenberg went back to serve his home country, Germany.

The event presented in the play is a mysterious meeting they had in Copenhagen in 1941. In order to avoid being monitored, they went out for a walk when Heisenberg paid a visit to Bohr. The walk lasted no longer than 10 minutes, but the two formally ended their companionship afterwards. What the meeting was about has remained a matter of historical speculation.

The play raises questions such as "why Heisenberg chose to visit Bohr in an occupied country," "what they discussed during their walk" and "whether the meeting had any impact on the war."

Apart from Bohr and Heisenberg, there is a third character, Bohr's wife, Margrethe, who offered her insights into their affinities, competition and tensions.

Debuted in London in 1998, the play ran for more than 300 performances in its first round before it moved to Broadway in 2000. It won the Tony Award in 2000 for Best Play.

"'Copenhagen' stands for the highest level of today's avant-garde theater," comments director Wang Xiaoying, who first brought the Chinese version of the play to the stage five years ago.

"The play deals with much more than it appears to be," he says. "It seems to be a discussion about science and atomic bombs, but it actually talks about many deep puzzles for human beings using the terms of science."

It will be performed by veteran actors Liang Guoqing, He Yu and Yang Qing, all from the National Theater Company of China.

"'Copenhagen,' from its language, ideology and artistic expressions, serves as a bold model for the Chinese theater scene," Wang continues. "It also brings the audience a novel experience. I believe that Shanghai audience, known for their openness to new things, will appreciate it."

Meanwhile, the Shanghai Modern People's Theater will stage another popular work of England's "Queen of Crime Fiction" Agatha Christie (1890-1976).

It will be the first time for "Appointment with Death," about a Belgian detective's search for a murderer during his trip to Jerusalem, to be performed in Chinese.

The theater company has presented a series of Christie's classics in recent years, including "The Mousetrap" and "And Then There Were None," both hitting box-office records for small-theater productions.

"Detective plays have been very well received by the Shanghai audience nowadays," says Zhang Yu, director of Shanghai Modern People's Theater. "Some people were attracted to the theater for the first time simply because they are fans of Christie. Fortunately, many of them stayed and became frequent theatergoers."


Date: March 3-7, 7:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Drama Arts Theater, 288 Anfu Rd

Tickets: 100-280 yuan

Tel: 6473-0123

"Appointment with Death"

Date: March 4-April 7, 7:30pm

Venue: Studio Theater, Shanghai Grand Theater, 300 People's Ave

Tickets: 120-150 yuan

Tel: 962-388


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