Atomic

25 Nov

This is the story of Big History intersecting with individual lives. It’s the story of some of the people responsible for the development of the atomic bomb.

This sounds like weighty stuff (and it is) but this new musical does what the best of the genre does so well – revitalize ways of looking at the world.

The cast are terrific. David Whitney is great fun as a Berlusconi-inspired, philandering, status-obsessed Enrico Fermi. Simon Brook McLachlan almost steals the show as an uber-confident fast-talking Robert Oppenheimer. Christy Sullivan and Lana Nesna are mesmerising as they pinball back and forth between serious scientists, Rockette style dancers and Andrew sisters twins. Blake Erikson creates a fascinatingly morally ambiguous scientist. But the night belongs particularly to Michael Falzon and Bronwyn Mulcahy, who play Leo and Trude Szilard. Their performances are brilliant, and it is they who are the focus of the story.

Atomic

Leo Szilard invented the chain reaction that made the atomic bomb possible. The fear the Nazi’s would complete the bomb first drove he and his comrades to work on the Manhattan Project. When it was obvious that race had been won, Szilard campaigned to limit the use of this weapon in war. We know how successful he was. The opening sequence shows a young couple flirting – just as the bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. It’s extraordinarily moving.

The score (Philip Foxman) and lyrics (Foxman, Gregory Bonsignore and Danny Ginges) are top class. And, yes, it’s a fun night, but I began this response by suggesting that it was the story of Big History and the individual. And after the war has finished, and Leo Szilard is no longer working on weaponry, there’s an interesting exploration of the idea of responsibility and recompense. And Trude sings touchingly of the special man she loves.

But I am left with the feeling that Leo is not so special. Not because he wasn’t a brilliant scientist and an avid campaigner, but because I don’t know if his situation is really so different from ours. We like to think we’ve avoided History, that our lives can be lived below the big issues of the day. But that’s just a self serving myth. In possibly the most powerful moment in the show, we see desperate refugees from Hitler’s Germany told to just go home. And so we’re reminded that every generation must face Big History.

Veronica Kaye

Atomic

NIDA Parade Theatre til 30 Nov

www.atomicthemusical.com

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