Interview: Simon Stephens & Marianne Elliott

Interview: Simon Stephens & Marianne Elliott

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Two members of the multi-award winning team behind Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, playwright Simon Stephens and director Marianne Elliott, sit down with us to talk about their vision behind bringing the play to the West End stage, and what the titular idea of German physicist Werner Heisenberg is all about.

In this uncertain world, who can predict what brings people together? When two strangers meet by chance amidst the bustle of a crowded London train station, their lives are changed forever. Book your ticket today:

hi guys it is actually what is it like to be in this theater where Heisenberg will be it's beautiful isn't it it's such an intimate face it feels like you're really close to the stage and yet it actually has quite a lot of seats in it but it's really beautifully beautifully maintained it's an exquisite room it's absolutely extraordinary I'm absolutely pumping with adrenaline and excitement because I've not been in this auditorium since we committed to producing the play here and I think he's gonna be extraordinary and I'd not realized how extraordinary had the potential to be before I walked into this auditorium about 20 minutes ago over here – your chemistry together even just in a room like you guys have you have a history together correct tell me about that yeah well we were brought up about two or three streets away from each other but we didn't know each other we probably met what was it you said mm okay exchange in Manchester and I really liked his writing and then we worked together over many years and it was quite relatively recently then we found out that actually we knew we went to the witch schools we went to on either side of the road I went to the rough school she went to the posh school so somebody asked us a question I don't know why they won't ask us about school and you've suddenly said how did you get to school and I went well I got on the bus outside to eat more golf clubs yeah and she was she lived by a golf club I do what miles to get to the golf club I dreamed of living and then when we had that realization I realized that I remembered her and I was younger than her I was like 14 spy at a lesson idea really real sky wasn't really a skully compared to her I was but she was like this beautiful girl from the sick form of the grammar school and I remember secretly being you know having a real crush on her and here you are putting on two kids from Stockport in the West End come on Simon nervous Godfather to my daughter really close and then we found this out talk about the certainty of randomness I mean like that is exactly so tell me a little bit like if someone doesn't know it interesting there's a long history from this play as well tell me a little bit about how it became to be that you had this idea for a show and what the show is about and where it's become sure I it was what's important for me is that science is not something that's alien or strange or geeky or artificial or weird it's the essence of what it is to be alive and my relationship with science has changed a lot since my eldest son has grown up and I've fallen in love with science through his fascination yeah because and all the plays written since he started kicking around the edges of maths and science I suddenly thought there's something about what it is to be alive in science and math and it's kind of inspired by him you know my other sons inspired me to write loads of plays about surfing and skateboarding that are about to be produced not really anyway um it was a conversation a conversation with a friend of mine introduced me to the notion of the uncertainty principle and its simplicity broke my heart and filled me with a sense of awe and it basically says that on an atomic level bear with me this is the science II bet on an atomic level if you understand the precise whereabouts of any given particle then it's impossible to successfully predict its trajectory or speed of movement if you know where something is you can never really know where it's going to go if you understand the speed of movement or the trajectory of a particle you never really know where its it where it is and when I heard this idea what astonished me about it was that to a degree it felt like what it was to be alive that if it's possible I think to really understand where somebody is to really look at somebody closely to really see them to really know them then it's much more likely they'll do something or go somewhere that will completely astonish you and at the same time if you're carefully watching where somebody's going or what somebody's doing the likelihood is you've never properly seen them and that paradox I thought was extraordinary as a means of interrogating what it was to be a human being and I thought I'd write a play about that and what's incredible about that is that even though we can't see it on a tangible level in our tangible world it means that stitched into the very fabric of the universe is this sense of uncertainty this sense of unpredictability it's not that we can't see it because we haven't got the right equipment it just is the way of the universe and humans find uncertainty and unpredictability really difficult to deal with in fact they're really about control stating that environments around them and teams of people around them and everybody this close to they very much need to control and they don't like to not know where they're going or what's going to happen to them in the next few years and so these two are very particular characters in this play possibly more set in their ways than most of us and really quite frightened in lots of ways and at a very particular place in their lives where they have controlled their environment so much so and yet through the meeting of each other and through the kind of journeying of that relationship they start to realize sort of the secrets of life even though they both feel like that they're at the end of their lives in different ways and they realize that what they have to do is to basically let their shoulders down controlling and allow what is to happen to happen and to be themselves and to be honest about themselves and throes of that which is very very difficult a monk when they do that they realize oh my god this is the way to live it's seemingly so perfect that you have taken a sort of scientific element and and turned it into a real theatrical show because in a lot of ways what you're speaking about is the experience we have in the theatre every time you see show it's just you're not really sure what's gonna happen yeah and that was really exciting to me what I had heard about the principal I thought not only is life like that but theatres like that and Theater exists in the spaces that we create on the stage and in the auditorium I think that's why I'm so excited sitting in the auditorium is I can imagine what's gonna happen on that stage and how it's going to affect the audience and how thrilling that has the potential to be in Marion why did you choose Heisenberg to be the show that you launched your new production company with the fabulous Chris Webber tell me a little bit about that I suppose and lots of ways it was a no-brainer and also in lots of ways it was a big risk and that both of those things felt like they were really important to the company I've worked with Simon more than any other writer I feel like I understand his writing to my very core and it's incredibly profound for me you know all of his writing only the ones that I wanted and I knew that I wanted to to choose plays where there were great female protagonists really great chances for actresses and I also felt like oh my god I'm here we are going into the commercial world but I really wanted to do something that that was as risky as dangerous as as much about quality as anything I'd ever done at the National so although some people could say you know maybe we should on a classic play that already a big fan base because we're going into the commercial world we felt like we wanted to do a new play we felt we wanted to make a new statement and Simon and this amazing female character just felt like it fit the bill what an female character Oh Mike had a Murray tough invent of course Kenneth I mean talk about your amazing cast I'd you know it's hard to articulate what it's like to be a writer and to write words with the hope that somebody will speak them and then to hear their actors of that caliber can Cranham who was Pinter's actor who was Edward Bond's actor who's a colossus of british theatre who spoken some of the finest words that you know playwrights in the last century have written to have him speak my words it's astonishing to me and Ann Marie is the most beautifully alive alert provocative dangerous sexy actor that I've seen on status that I've seen on stage for four years you know watching heard this month at the National Theatre she can hold a Theatre in the palm of her hand and create complete magic and what's gonna happen when those two come together I think is just gonna be thrilling yeah there are two things that I find really exciting about directing in the theatre one is to make massive visual statements and to do really impossible challenging plays which I seem to have done quite a lot of and the other is the to pursue the craft of excellence in acting and acting it's really a skill and a craft that you never stop learning about and so to work with to really established brilliantly accomplished and experienced actors together and just for the play to be about the two of them which just concentrating on the finery of what's going on between them and the way that they're saying the text it's just luxurious it's I think it's really interesting that you have the two characters who are from two different countries and the show is set in two different countries the police journey itself actually has had the two different country journey is that I mean how do you feel about that especially for having been I mean we had a great mark brokers production for Manhattan Theatre Club that was produced on Broadway was something that I was massively proud of and and and remember with just love and and Denis on who was making his Broadway debut aged 81 was Tony nominated for his Broadway debut and and mary-louise Parker and they're just gorgeous actors so I'm proud of that production and and proud of the life it's had but what's thrilling is this production is gonna be so different the whereas the the Broadway production was defined by spareness and it's sparseness and there was a gesture about sitting in a Broadway theater and there was just two actors I thought was really radical but in this production I think the work that Bonnie Christie the designer has done the Polly Constable the lighting designers doing the work of meals from the work of Steven Hoggett I think they're gonna release the politic and the extraordinary within a play which on the surface might seem quite rooted in just how people are and the artists of that caliber are releasing the extraordinary within people who we might perceive as being ordinary I think both productions in their way of release the story that crosses the Atlantic Ocean I find that very moving it's so awesome and Mary Ann this is not just a two-hander you've got choreography you've got you Original Score I mean I like to tell me a little bit about this and well I suppose funny Christi the designer and I where we were talking about it we felt like it was not just about realism it wasn't just two people in in in a particular location it felt like it had kind of almost spiritual undertones or religious undertones or a sense of a parable or kind of a weird extraordinary abstract poem and that constantly the audience should be kept guessing where where are they what's gonna happen next just as much as they're they're guessing what am i doing why am i doing it why are you doing that how's that affecting me this is all surprising me and so we wanted to put it in an environment without giving too much away which was scientific but also like looking at people in a very spare gallery you know like you were either looking at them through a microscope and seeing them as specimens or you were looking at them in this beautiful white cube gallery and that the gallery changed and morphed its shape around them just as their worlds change and morph around them so that you're constantly aware of the realism because of the way that they're acting but also the the multitude of layers of spirituality and parallels and and the science and all the other things that are so pointed out in the in the writing that you could you could possibly lose sight on if you didn't try and put it in that kind of fun set and design that the final question is about theater in general for official London theater at the Society of London theater we're asking theatre makers what theater is to them and why it is so important for London and London theatre so could you tell me what is theater team that's a really big question it is it's an importance a really important question it's important it's our job I think is by vital vital to me I keep thinking that I should move away from it and I keep being drawn back to me it's about how we commune in the idea of being human and what does it really mean to be alive and to live which i think is really really tough job actually to live and when you brought together in an environment with other people and you're aware that there are other people there watching and sharing and something with you and then you participate in the dream of the stories that are happening on stage you are together trying to come to a place of understanding what was happening today's character on stage what does that mean to you what does that means the people that you're sitting with what does that mean for tonight what will that mean for tomorrow night it's very much an ephemeral art form that makes it really frustrating but also incredibly beautiful because it can blossom into the most wonderful gem and talk about the uncertainty principle which is about in your play about living in the moment and enjoying the moment and living for now and going with it then that's what theatre absolutely does and can celebrate it when it's when it's good music amazing what about you find sir I think we're living at a time where just being in the same room as somebody else it's increasingly difficult and I'm not saying this judgmentally all right because because there's nobody more addicted to Twitter than me there's nobody more addicted to check in emails or you know we carried the universe around in our pockets now we carry all the world knowledge in our pockets we no longer need to wonder about anything because as soon as we wonder about anything we can access all information I think that at the heart of a city built on the transactions of money there should be an art form and it's fundamental to London theater you just gone on any escalator in London you know it's all dominated by the theater that's happening here the fund that the notion that fundamental to a city that is built on the transactions of Technology and information and capital and money is the possibility that people who don't know each other can come together for an evening and sitting next to each other and look for a while in the same direction as the strangers they're engaging with and engage with the same stories them and that in their same room there are artists of the greatest caliber committing to telling a story to sharing a dream to engaging an imagination and that if we commit to that they actually we make ourselves better than we do in the isolation brought about by our technology I think that's what theatre is to me it's the possibility of that magic that you share an experience with a stranger the use of common as sitting or sitting at the road you know seats like this you sit next to somebody you've never met before and for a while you share the same experience and the experience as an experience of story there's no better way to crystallize the experience of what it is to be human than in the theatre and that is I think actually secretly I think it's what makes London the best city in the world because it remains despite what happens politically despite what happens economically it remains a city built entirely on its theater well done you guys thank you thank you thank you gonna edit out the swear words


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