Review: Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg at Shakespeare & Company

Photo Credit: Malcolm Ingram and Tamara Hickey. Photo by Eloy Garcia

Photo Credit: Malcolm Ingram and Tamara Hickey. Photo by Eloy Garcia

Angelica Potter

  • New England Theatre Critic

Written by Simon Stephens this two-person play features talented actors Tamara Hickey as the talkative Georgie Burns and Malcolm Ingram as the mature and compassionate Alex Priest. Set in present-day London, we watch as the relationship between two unlikely companions changes over the course of six scenes. A common thread that connects them is the loneliness they feel because they have lost the people who meant the most to them. Georgie is a vibrant, spirited woman in her forties who mistakenly kisses the neck of Alex in a busy train station thinking he was someone else. Alex, poised, quiet, and seventy-five, becomes entangled in Georgie’s life, but it might just be the excitement his solitary life needed.

The scenic design by Juliana von Haubrich and lighting design by Dan Kotlowitz paired nicely to create sharp edges, and a world of clean-cut black and white. At the start of the play, there were thin lines, possibly from projections, that crossed in all sorts of directions along the movable flats that were covered in white fabric and stood across the upper part of the stage. Since the play begins in a train station, it makes sense that these lines could have represented various train routes. But it also showed how at various points each line would cross with another; just as human beings at various points cross paths with others that may or may not have an impact on their lives. It accentuated the Heisenberg principle which simply put, states that humans have an unavoidable tendency to influence situations that they may think they are only observing or have no part of. Even the slightest interference can cause the velocity or trajectory of a situation to change. So while Alex is sitting at the train station, listening to his music and minding his own business, he has no idea of the impact that Georgie and her seemingly chaotic personality will have on his life and his path. 

Under the direction of Tina Packer, Hickey and Ingram wonderfully bring out the nuances and quirks of their very different characters. With each passing scene, the audience is unsure where this relationship will go next or if it will fizzle out and the characters will go their separate ways. What we see is how two people can affect one another in both the smallest and biggest ways. Alex likes to tango but doesn’t want to teach Georgie. He tells her she must learn elsewhere and then he will dance with her. Does he expect that she will actually go learn how to tango just to dance with him? Probably not. So when she surprises him weeks after their friendship began with knowledge of the complex dance steps, he is pleasantly amazed. When Georgie finally reveals her dishonesty and true motives for striking up a conversation with Alex that first day at the train station, though he is confused and hurt, he shows her kindness. He stands by her side as she comes to terms with the fact that she may never see her son again and in doing so is the steadfast rock that Georgie so desperately needed. 

While this play was confusing at times and the antics of Georgie seemed to overshadow the calmness of Alex; Hickey and Ingram were fascinating to watch. Stephens writing is fast-paced and intense, but there was a sereneness in the silent moments between this pair that kept the audience fixated. It is an intricately complex play woven with tenderhearted moments that were admirably performed by this duo. © 

This production runs about 90 minutes with no intermission. Heisenberg plays through September 2nd in the Tina Packer Playhouse on the Shakespeare & Company campus located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, Massachusetts. Tickets and more information about this play as well as Shakespeare & Company’s full season can be found at or by calling the box office at 413-637-3353. 

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