IN her copy of the script for Copenhagen Barbara Flynn has pasted photographs of Margrethe Bohr, the character she plays in Michael Frayn’s three-hander, based around a meeting in 1941 between her husband and fellow physicist Werner Heisenberg.
The play speculates on what took place between the former friends who had collaborated on work that led to the potential development of the atomic bomb but as a Dane and a German they were now on opposite sides in the Second World War.
It is suggested that Margrethe’s role in the play is to represent the non-scientific audience and ensure that the two men’s discussion is on a level we can all understand and to act as a mediator and to be a barometer of truth.
“But that is in no way to suggest that she wasn’t incredibly bright because she typed up almost everything,” says Flynn, flicking through the pictures. “They are an amazing document of the relationship between Margrethe and her husband – and you pick up the body language.
“Margrethe created the home to which he could bring students She was a mother figure to all these kids, of which Heisenberg was the brightest of them all. But the exchange of ideas had stopped in recent years because of the Nazi element.”
The Bohrs were celebrities, feted like “king and queen” and such was their status that Margrethe had entertained the real queen.
Heisenberg’s name is associated with the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics. “This is a play about uncertainty – uncertainty of the times, of the visit by Heisenberg to Bohr, uncertainty of whether one was making the bomb or whether they could make one,” says the actor.
The play is nominally about physics, she says, but really it reflects Frayn’s philosophy in which everything has to do with the personal.
Flynn is happy to be back at the Crucible where she played Gertrude to John Simm’s Hamlet in 2010. In the meantime she has been busy on screen filming a comedy, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, opposite Felicity Jones and MacKenzie Crook, coming out later this year and went to Hungary to appear in the second series of TV mini-series The Borgias and was seen over Christmas in ITV period drama Just Henry.
Her voice can be heard, incidentally, as narrator of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which has begun a second series on Channel 4. The Guardian admired her non-judgemental style, even suggesting there should be a Barbara Flynn Trophy For Maintenance of Studied Neutrality Under Extreme Duress.
Away from stage and screen, Flynn also produces handcrafted jewellery and is looking forward while in Sheffield of renewing her relationship with the designers at the Butcher Gallery.
Copenhagen starts previewing at the Lyceum Theatre on Wednesday and continues until March 10.