The drama of science

Henry Goodman and Geoffrey Streatfeild in Copenhagen, Lyceum Theatre, March 2012
Henry Goodman and Geoffrey Streatfeild in Copenhagen, Lyceum Theatre, March 2012

THE final series of Spooks introduced us to the character of IT expert Calum Reed, played by Geoffrey Streatfeild, currently appearing in Copenhagen at the Lyceum .

Calum was someone who first came across as rather cocky and not a team player but by the end of the series had been accepted.

Streatfeild agrees. “He was a character who at the start everyone hated but eventually came round to, rather like Heisenberg. It’s become part of my job to convince you that someone you might not like does have a heart and soul.”

He is referring to his character in Michael Frayn’s play based around a meeting between the Danish physicists Niels Bohr and his protégé, Werner Heisenberg, in Copenhagen in 1941 by which time they were on opposite sides of the war.

“Heisenberg’s likeabilty and his motives are toyed around with in the play,” says the actor. “I can’t tell from an audience point of view what you think but I am firmly on his side. In all of us we have a motivation and a logic which we use to justify ourselves and thus his decision to stay in Germany and although he doesn’t join the party and become a Nazi he’s essentially working for a fascist government.

“It’s essentially finding the logic as far as he is concerned and then trying to perhaps persuade the other characters on the stage and by consequence the audience that his actions accord to an honour and a code that he has about a greater belief in Germany. “

The question of whether Heisenberg avoided helping Germany build a nuclear bomb was by accident or by design remains a matter of conjecture.

“But what we can say is that he didn’t build a bomb and the people who did build a bomb and killed nigh on a million people wouldn’t shake his hand,” points out the actor. “He who killed nobody is a pariah and that’s part of the genius of the play is that it gives someone who has gone down in history as a very dubious character a very fair hearing and humanises someone who was held in grave suspicion.”

Streatfeild says he enjoys the research process of preparing for a part, although in the case of Heisenberg there was too much material.

“It’s the first play I have done for about 18 months, I’ve been doing mostly film stuff,” he explains. “You are afforded a far greater depth of inquiry into your character in theatre, it’s a different sport.”

The film stuff includes a British romcom, City Slacker. “It’s about corruption in the city so it couldn’t be more timely to have a go at bankers. I play a banker who goes into disguise as a slacker to win the hand of a high-flying executive, played by Fiona Gillies, and it will be out later this year .

“I also had a part in the new Michael Morpurgo film, Private Peaceful, playing a First World War chaplain.”

It is not the first time Streatfeild has been in the trenches. He was in the original West End cast of Journey’s End working with the same director as on Copenhagen, David Grindley.

Surely neither of them expected this rather old-fashioned play by RC Sheriff to have become such a hit – and still be going eight years later.

“The ingredients that moved if from being a period piece to be treated as a contemporary piece and brought out the elements that become relevant were how it becomes like a family, a group of people living together under extreme pressure, and I think the same thing can be applied to Copenhagen,” suggests the actor.

“Journey’s End is about a group of people who are not soldiers by profession not volunteers and they find themselves in dehumanising situation and we watch them try and hold themselves together and that’s a compelling thing to examine.

“It’s the same thing with Copenhagen. These people who had a wondrous thrilling creative time in the Twenties making some seminal world-shattering breakthrough go from working purely in theory and working in universities to finding themselves having to make decisions about life and death, not only that but about the entire planet and to be frank they are not cut out for it.”

Copenhagen runs until Saturday at the Lyceum.