A new production of Michael Frayn’s gripping drama Copenhagen is set to open at the Theatre Royal Bath starring Malcolm Sinclair, Haydn Gwynne and Philip Arditti, appearing from Wednesday 9th June to Saturday 26th June.
The role of Niels Bohr in Copenhagen is performed by Malcolm Sinclair, who has enjoyed a remarkable career spanning five decades as a stage and screen actor. He has played many leading roles for the RSC and the National Theatre, and performed widely across Britain and internationally. Most recently at Bath’s Theatre Royal, Malcolm played General Eisenhower in David Haig’s new play Pressure in 2018, prior to its West End transfer, where he received a 2019 Olivier Award nomination. Malcolm’s extensive film and television credits include V for Venetta, Parade’s End, The Young Victoria, Pie in the Sky, Judge John Deed, Kavanagh QC, Silk and the Bond film Casino Royale. We spoke to Malcolm about the play, how he was bad at Maths in school and how he enjoys coming to Bath.
Do audiences need to know anything about the background to the meeting which took place in 1941 on which Copenhagen is based before watching the play?
I don’t think so. I didn’t! A knowledge of the initial success of Hitler’s Germany might help, but everything you need to know is in the play; the implications of the science rather than the science itself are the important things and what the play is about. And the implications, terrifying implications sometimes, are very clear.
We’ll never know exactly what the conversations between Niels Bohr and his old friend Werner Heisenberg were about, but do you feel inclined towards any specific theory?
I don’t because the play is about the process of trying to find out what the conversation had been; and I want to try and start every performance with an open mind.
Would you describe yourself as a lover of science?
No! I was always very bad at maths at school, and most of science is maths.
Playing the role of Niels Bohr, you have some lengthy speeches in Copenhagen. How do you go about learning so many lines?
Practice! It takes me longer now that I’m older though.
"I love being in big shows playing to huge audiences, where we all, I hope, are having a very good time. The thing is, I don’t sing…. Or, rather, I do a bit but it’s ‘character’ singing, if you see what I mean, rather than anything very beautiful."
I understand that playwright Michael Frayn does not include a single stage direction, leaving the action completely up to the actors and the director. Does this make rehearsals easier or harder?
Both! But not much movement is necessary, I think. It’s the conversations, arguments, and the few set pieces that are so extraordinary.
You often play real people (General Eisenhower in Pressure, Benjamin Britten in The Habit of Art and John Le Mesurier in Hancock), and here Niels Bohr, how is this different from playing entirely fictional characters?
Playing Bohr is different from the others, I think, because I had a very clear idea in my head of those characters above. I knew nothing about Bohr at all, apart from vaguely recognising his name. I don’t know what he sounded like, so I am really simply working from the script. Sometimes I think I sound like Michael Frayn!
People may not realise you are an acclaimed musical theatre performer too. Is this something you particularly enjoy?
I do; I love being in big shows playing to huge audiences, where we all, I hope, are having a very good time. The thing is, I don’t sing…. Or, rather, I do a bit but it’s ‘character’ singing, if you see what I mean, rather than anything very beautiful. I often play what are called ‘character parts’ providing the comedy (I hope!), and I leave most of the singing to the experts.
After university you did a post graduate course at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and you’ve performed at the Theatre Royal Bath several times previously, most recently in your Olivier Award nominated performance in Pressure in 2018. Does the West Country hold a special place in your heart?
Well, I had a marvellous year at the school and was very lucky to join the Bristol Old Vic Company for eighteen months when I left; impossible for young actors nowadays, the more’s the pity. And that’s when I became a proper actor, so I love Theatre Royal, King Street, and I’ve been to Bath very often, which is always a huge treat.
Copenhagen appears at the Theatre Royal Bath from Wednesday 9th June to Saturday 26th June. Tickets are on sale at the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 and online at www.theatreroyal.org.uk