Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle review

Theatre, Drama
2 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(10user reviews)

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham can’t salvage this rare misfire from the prolific Simon Stephens

Playwright Simon Stephens is a man who has displayed an almost supernatural aptitude for having his cake and eating it.

On the one hand, he flies in the face of commercialism with boldly avant-garde works like ‘Pornography’, ‘Three Kingdoms’ and this year’s trippy ‘Nuclear War’.

On the other, he’s won a brace of Oliviers and presumably made a pretty penny with a more accessible strand of work, notably his long-running West End adaptation of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’.

That these two versions of Stephens rarely seem to really get in each other’s way is really quite impressive. But his culty Euro-cool must finally take some collateral damage in ‘Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle’, a dismal MOR wank fantasy that’s comfortably his worst play – albeit one somewhat redeemed by flashes of brilliance in the writing and an exemplary cast in Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham.

He is Alex, a butcher with an idiosyncratic bachelor’s lifestyle and an impressively eclectic music collection. She is Georgie: to all intents and purposes, a manic pixie dreamgirl. She’s a brash, charming, much younger (a 25-year age difference between the actors) American with Secrets To Hide who randomly picks Alex out at a public space and ends up propositioning the hell out of him (as you do).

The title alludes to some chats between them about embracing the unknowability of life. But really this dimension feels of glancing importance at best (and at worst ironic, given the predictability of the story).

Basically, you’re stuck following Georgie and Alex’s blossoming relationship, which largely consists of him being inscrutable and her being annoying.

They are both very, very good actors and Cranham is particularly great, imbuing Alex with a somehow compassionate poker face. Duff is saddled with the more thankless task: Georgie is a generic sexy kook made even more infuriating by the essentially unnecessary fact of her Americanness (the play premiered off-Broadway a couple of years back – which presumably explains her nationality). She retains her usual, sleepy-eyed intensity, but it’s hard to get over the fact that the character is founded on the iffy cultural trope of the hot younger woman who wants to bang the older man.

There are great flashes in the script, during which it rises far above the sort of generic romcom fare it apes: Alex’s disconcerting explanation of what it is he likes about butchery; even her funny, terse observation on Müllerlight feels like an echo of a better show.

‘Curious Incident…’ director Marianne Elliott’s spare, vivid production, with its dazzling light-based set from Bunny Christie and occasionally overwhelming Nils Frahm score, is blessedly chintz-free. But she’s the one who programmed ‘Heisenberg’ as the opener to her new West End season of work – it feels like a peculiar opening statement.

All this accepted, ‘Heisenberg’ clearly isn’t aimed at the ‘Pornography’ audience, and probably has considerably more general appeal. It’s fine if you like that kind of thing – but I don’t, and this is a playwright capable of far better.


Users say (10)

3 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

2.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:1
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:4
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:1
2 people listening

Didn’t like it, which pains me to say as I love the 2 actors in it. Good points are the lights, music and set design was surprisingly simple but effective to convey the story to the audience, there is no interval and it isn’t too long. You do feel for Kenneth Cranham in some scenes of the play.  Bad points is that the storyline just isn’t believable and Ann-Marie Duff’s character was really annoying, didn’t believe the relationship between these two at all.


Considering the writer and actors involved, this play is quite disappointing. The writing seems to try hard to be unexpected and ‘hip’ but ends up pretty clichéd. The actors worked a miracle to make it somewhat engaging and interesting, but believable it is not – the absurd is not the age difference in the love story, but everything else about the relationship. The technological changes in setting between scenes started as maybe innovative, but it’s a little too much with no real increment to the play; it becomes just too much at a point. It’s not a unsufferable hour and half, but I definitely wouldn’t suggest it for anyone...


First you wonder what famous Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is to do with the play? So even though it was obviously a metaphor, the idea was that like in physics, relationship and human nature in general are very uncertain and unpredictable. Sort of, you cannot calculate probability of things. And then it comes a cliché: he is 75 (he said it millions of times) and she is around 40, means it’s unlikely that something would work for those 2. So what? Like we don’t have countless number of examples of love stories with a huge age difference. There are only 2 actors: Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham and both play brilliantly, which makes the play very captivating, you think. There is no interval, which feels right as you can’t interrupt an evolving relationship. But somehow I was trying to convince myself that their developing feelings are believable and the irony is that I was still “uncertain” half way through the play. By the end I decided that I am not convinced, like something was still missing. In my opinion, they didn't achieve a chemistry on stage, it was more like 2 separate actors with 2 separate scripts. On the positive side, I really liked what they’ve done with the staging. Similar to the ‘Curious Incident of a dog’, there are moving walls, clever lighting, sound, ascending and descending furniture. That was brilliant. 


I was expecting a great deal from this play, with the two huge name actors. Having seen their work in the past (and having loved the plays they were in), I was so excited to be in the first row and able to enjoy the emotion on their faces. The seats were great, and the acting was top notched (especially from Anne-Marie Duff). However, I felt that the script and storyline were not as engaging as I would have liked... Also, the play's title, which was mentioned twice in the show, was taken pretty largely out of context and had no real fidelity with what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is about... With a huge amount of great plays out there right now, this would definitely not be top of mind to recommend to friends. I do hope to see these two great actors in further productions but I will try my best to forget about this fairly bland production for now...


I went to this play completely blind- knowing very little about the story and the actors or much. I really enjoyed this play- yes there are no intervals- but it is a an hour and 30min long- so like a short movie. I thought the script was funny and the main actors Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham were brilliant, you could tell that they poured everything in the performance I went to and they were really emotional at the end. I liked the staging even though was not a big fan of the way they transitioned between scenes- it was a bit try hard for my taste but as an actor it would be a fun and challenging this to do- so I can appreciate that. I went with my partner who is not that much into the arts and he loved it. I admit toward the end it felt a bit long- especially as you only have the two same people on stage- for this reason and the strange scene transitions I removed a star. However I would recommend seeing this play. 


I can see why this one divides audiences, it seems as if nothing much happens and the characters can be irritating at times, but I felt that that was the beauty of it. The characters weren't perfect, as no one is and their relationship wouldn't be one you would ordinarily hear about, but that doesn't mean they don't happen IRL. The staging was clever, if a bit vast for just two actors. See this show for great acting, sharp jokes and occasional sparks of brilliance.


This 90 minute show is full of promise: it comes from the same director of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, has a strong cast of two, and no interval which sets the expectation of seeing something you’re bound to be fully engrossed in.

But while the performances were excellent- Anne-Marie Duff plays the annoying, off the wall Georgie brilliantly- the story goes from interesting and intriguing, to an hour later dragging on a bit.

Even the basic and stark staging which is initially clever in its simplicity gets a bit much after a while.

I didn’t buy into there being any attraction between Duff and Cranham but still found myself strangely intrigued to see how the story would all pan out. The outcome didn’t satisfy me at all.

Hats off to Marianne Elliot for exploring such a complex topic in such a bold way.

I didn't enjoy this at all & had there been an interval I'd have been happy to escape. There wasn't so I was trapped! The actors are brilliant but the script & characters were dreadful. Anne Marie Duff's character was irritating & Kenneth Cranham's was bland. Their relationship was so unbelievable I couldn't engage at all. I left the theatre feeling annoyed which was a huge disappointment because I had such high expectations with such a brilliant production& cast pedigree


A modest little play with a rather silly & unsuitable title. Anne Marie Duff & Kennrth Cranham (the cast of two) make it worthwhile & an enjoyable, if minor experience.

Two maestro actors, one of the top directors in the UK right now along with one of the top set designers and a superb script: you get what you'd expect, a beautifully executed play that works brilliantly. Funny and poignant this is as good a show as any that you'll see in London right now. Well worth seeing. 

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