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Albert's Boy

Finborough Theatre
19 July - 13 August 2005

A co-production with Concordance
Rip Her To Shreds

Albert's Boy

By James Graham

Starring Tony Award Winner Victor Spinetti and Gerard Monaco.

Winner: Pearson Playwright Award
Pick of the Week: The Stage, Aleks Sierz
Rogues & Vagabonds,
Newsline
Four Stars: What's On

Line

Reviews


Robert Hewison, Sunday Times

I first saw Victor Spinetti in Joan Littlewoods’s Oh! What A Lovely War in 1963. In 1969, he was awesome in Jane Arden’s Vagina Red And The Gas Oven at Jim Haynes’s Arts Lab. And he is still willing to commit his reputation to a fringe theatre. Not that James Graham’s new drama is a fringey play. Set in 1953, it’s an old-fashioned two-hander, with Spinetti magnificent as a lonely, ageing Albert Einstein, struggling, and failing, to develop a unified theory that will explain the physics of the universe and somehow assuage his guilt for having developed the ideas that led to the atomic bomb. Spinetti is fortunate in his debating partner, the young actor Gerard Monaco, who plays a family friend, recently returned from the horrors of a POW camp in Korea. Hardened, he argues that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary evils. The argument remains unresolved, in spite of Max Lewendel’s production stepping out of its minutely realist mode to create a climactic evocation of the bomb. What is moving is to see a young actor and an old actor working together to show that neither youth nor age can escape the damage done by modern conflict.”


Aleks Sierz, The Stage

"What are the ethics of mass destruction? In 22-year-old James Graham’s second play, it is 1953 and an aged Albert Einstein, in his cluttered Princeton study, looks back with guilt at his role in the development of the atom bomb, which ended the Second World War by killing 300,000 people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Visited by Peter Bucky, a family friend and Korean War veteran, Einstein gradually realises that his failure to make any headway in his scientific quest for the unified field theory, which would reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics, is due to mental paralysis brought on by guilt. Then, late one night, the two men argue it out. Bucky’s view is vividly coloured by his direct experience of being wounded in war and he passionately advocates using the bomb as a way of saving soldiers’ lives. By contrast, Einstein is a pacifist and remains obsessed by his imagination of the horrific effects of a nuclear explosion on civilians. ...its debate is clear and the conflict between the two men is lucidly realised. Graham avoids the mad-scientist clichés and his Einstein is preoccupied by moral responsibility rather than comically absent-minded. Directed by Max Lewendel, on Alex Marker’s realistic set, Albert’s Boy offers Victor Spinetti the chance to give a masterclass, ably supported by Gerard Monaco, in acting that radiates warmth and is emotionally convincing. Fringe theatre at its best.


Joanna Bacon, Rogues and Vagabonds

"On the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, James Graham’s beautiful new play at the Finborough questions the morality of nuclear power and the price of genius. Albert Einstein (Victor Spinetti) is driving himself crazy struggling with his conscience and the unanswerable question “did I do right or wrong in enabling the Bomb to be made?” He is visited by a young man, a family friend recently released from a Prisoner of War camp. Their warm fondness for each other enables them both to share their pain and is challenged, but not beaten, by their opposing beliefs. The play highlights thinking versus experience: the pain of the intellectual, both as a human being and as a ‘big picture’ thinker, versus the pain of Peter the soldier, who has seen action in the Korean War and now has a theory of his own. The Bomb and its effect haunts Einstein. His Universe has gone mad and there is an absence of a theory to explain it. Peter’s experience tells him that the Bomb stopped the War; his theory is that Hiroshima was the lesser of the two evils and saved more lives than it took. The play cleverly juxtaposes the general and the individual throughout, from both sides of the argument and is a beautifully crafted piece from 22 year old James Graham. From the moment we set eyes on him, Victor Spinetti is brilliant as Einstein. With his rolled up trouser-leg and one red sock he capture’s the old man’s vulnerability, while carrying the intellectual weight inside, with the wit and gentleness of the character. Gerard Monaco as Peter Bucky also turns in an excellent performance. The first scene was beautifully played by both actors, establishing their characters and also showing the tenor of their previous relationship. Bucky’s attempt to comfort Einstein by “getting real” about what good the Bomb did (scene three) contained all the depth and pain two men can carry, and was incredibly skilful and moving. Also, both actors when left alone on stage gave enormous attention to detail in their thinking, corporeal presence and their dealing with props, which were imbued with a positively Brechtian importance, attention I thoroughly admire and enjoyed enormously, and which is so important always, but especially in a tiny playing space.Designer Alex Marker has made interesting and beautifully detailed use of the space, which I am sure he will adapt ingeniously if this wonderful production gets the transfer it deserves."


Blanche Marvin, London Theatre Reviews

"Victor Spinetti plays Albert Einstein, a serious part for this serious actor who is cast mostly as a campy comic losing out on the wealth of this fine actor’s range of talent. Is he Einstein? Yes he is…Einstein in 1953, two years before his death,…. forgetful, understating his despair, terribly alone in his Princeton flat, after the death of his wife and sister and in his guilt over his breaking of the atom which led to the atom bomb (Little Boy), that destroyed 300,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasagi! He cannot excuse himself with the fact that it ended a war that might have killed many more than 300,00 as Peter, a young veteran of the Korean War,points out. Spinetti shuffles about in his slippers with a single red sock and dishevelled hair without purpose even when trying to work out new equations. Peter’s arrival is a ray of light for Albert, despite Peter’s sick and tormented self…he brings back happy memories of times gone by.They support each other in their distress, but also battle over the ethics of the bomb... It has, however, moments of imagery in the writing that lift it out of its simplistic approach to a profound subject which Michael Frayn divulged in his brilliant play of Copenhagen where the physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg meet and dissect the ethics of the atom bomb. But a riveting Spinetti portrays the agony as he describes in detail the horror of the atomic blast that is devastating and raises the play onto an unforgettable level. The direction seems unobtrusive while Gerard Monaco as Peter gives an honest performance."


Newsline

"This fine two-hander sets out to illuminate the character and outlook of Albert Einstein in this the 50th anniversary of his death and the centenary of his announcement of the theory of relativity.What splendid, gripping performances!The production focuses on the big political issues of war, terror, the ultimate weapon and the uses and abuses of power: it rings every contemporary bell, going off literally like a bomb at the end. We meet Einstein (Victor Spinetti) in 1953, tucked away with his blackboard in Princeton University and struggling gamely on with a grand unified theory that has never quite gelled. A man in his late 30s, Peter Bucky (Gerard Monaco) calls.Bucky, one of the sons of Gustav Bucky, the radiographer friend of Einstein, has been, man and boy, part of the Einstein household, but in 1953 he is returning from military action in Korea, where he was captured.The whole of the action is overshadowed by the development of nuclear weapons.The fundamental closeness of the two men allows the dramatist to explore the differences in their outlook: Monaco’s Bucky is no mere foil to Einstein but passionate about Einstein’s contradictory nature, as well as generous to the man. The interaction between the two players becomes increasingly intense, leading to a searing climax.Bucky has come back from Korea a changed man, worried that Einstein would be ashamed of him for taking up arms, contrary to Einstein’s (weakened) pacifism.An argument about quantum mechanics (‘Don’t you curse in my house!’, quips Einstein, the last remaining opponent of the chance nature of subatomic particles) leads to the central contradiction in Einstein’s life. The Universe is ‘logical, rational, precise, conclusive’, but defining the social evils of war is impossible.Bucky tells him how his Chinese captors knew Einstein only as the man behind the atomic bomb, and all goes silent with embarrassment.In later scenes, Einstein admits to writing to Roosevelt to insist on the need for an atomic bomb, and describes how when it fell on Hiroshima the locals called it ‘the little boy’.Einstein’s soliloquy at the play’s close is addressed to his ‘little boy’, and details the physical effect pf the transformation of matter into energy.It is a genuinely tragic assessment of his legacy, since the Einstein we get from Spinetti is so beautifully realised. The profoundly impractical, funny, middle-European charmer who felt haunted by the burden of imperialism’s ultimate weapon was simply overtaken by the chaotic forces of a world that he had no way of understanding.He couldn’t even win a game of noughts and crosses. This is a meaty play, conveying strong arguments but also bringing to life two historical characters with great warmth, humour and tenderness."

 

Amateur Stage

"Before even addressing the actual play let me place on record that this production gave us a unique master-class in acting by that brilliant veteran Tony Award winner Victor Spinetti.

What is extraordinary about this consummate actor is not just the international plaudits with which he has been showered throughout a fifty plus year career - from winning the coveted Tony Award on Broadway for his incredible performance in Joan Littlewood's Oh, What a Lovely War! to adulation for a dozen and more acclaimed performances in every genre of production from The Ladykillers and The Lady Vanishes to starring roles in all the major Beatles films and a record breaking tour of The Merry Widow.

No! The extraordinary thing about Spinetti is that he does not crave the limelight; he is more concerned with the quality of work he offers whether it be at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane or in fringe venues like the Kings Head and now the Finborough Theatre (upstairs in a pub)...

...Set in 1953 Spinetti plays the lonely, aging Einstein struggling, but sadly failing, to develop a definitive theory. His young family friend, Bucky, played by a talented young actor, Gerard Monaco, has recently returned from the horrors of a prolonged spell as a prisoner of war in a Korean camp. The young man proves a formidable opponent to the scientist's arguments as he tries to assuage the guilt that plagues Einstein's every waking hour - that somehow he had developed the ideas that were to lead to the creation of the atomic bomb.

Bucky is hardened in his conviction that the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were necessary evils.

Both their personal and metaphysical arguments remain unsolved and whilst the lack of resolution of the debate could have been unsatisfying to the audience, in fact it proved to be a wonderful piece of theatrical magic created by a duo of a young actor and an old actor demonstrating so convincingly that neither youth nor age can escape unhurt by damage done by modern warfare.

The limited run of the taxing play will have ended by the time we go to press and I can only pray, for all our sakes, that it will gain a well-deserved transfer to reach a larger audience."

Sam Marlowe, Times

"It's 1953, and Albert Einstein is shambling distractedly around his Princeton apartment in slippers and a single red sock. In reality, two years later he would be dead. This new play by 22-year-old James Graham portrays the great physicist suffering, in the final years of his life, from loneliness following the death of his sister and his wife, and from guilt over his part in the creation of the atomic bomb. The production, directed by Max Lewendel, marks both the 50th anniversary of Einstein's death, and the 60th of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Into the professor's chaotic domesticity comes Peter Bucky, a friend of the Einstein family from childhood. Bucky, fresh from the Korean War, has a head full of torments; and before long the two men are engaged in a violent verbal battle over the ethics of conflict.

The drama has echoes of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, which focused on a 1942 meeting between the physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. But unlike that play, Albert's Boy seems simplistic. The route from Einstein's theory of relativity, proposed in 1905, to the beginnings of the development of the A-bomb in 1939 was not as direct as the play implies...

...It's neat, but it doesn't quite convince. Yet there is a boldness, and an occasional lyricism, to the writing that has a certain potency — particularly in the play’s closing section, where Einstein describes, with shuddering clarity, the true horror of an atomic blast. And if Monaco’s Bucky is a little too smooth to make us believe in his pain, Spinetti is a compelling Einstein — affable, agonised, raging and despairing by turns..."


Time Out

"Biopics of plays about troubled geniuses, particularly in the sciences, tend to be anathema to understanding the subject’s ideas. The Beautiful Mind Syndrome, in which genius is depicted by a ruffled man in odd socks dribbling while scratching equations onto a toilet seat, makes uncomfortable viewing.. Yet a play, unlike a lecture, works best when it studies human interactions and foibles. James Graham, another Royal Court Young Writer making his mark at The Finborough, belies his 22 years in understanding this. There is a precocity in his talent, but through the delicate employment of understatement he never drifts into the pretentious or patronizing zones. Einstein is not a removed figure, just a ‘silly old man’ who is, yes, sockless, and unable to find his cat. He also happens to be wracked by the misplaced guilt of feeling he has created humanity’s end in the form of the atom bomb....Both actors excel, however, once they have shared late night fears and remebrrances – Victor Spinetti is particularly affecting as the Jewish intellectual pacifist who listens in horror to his friend’s testimony from the front line.The play can feel overly schematic in The Man of Action’s symbiotic relationship with the Man of Thought. This is compounded by the knowledge that the play commemorates a myriad of anniversaries, including those of Einstein’s papers on relativity, his death and Hiroshima. But then the struggle of ‘relating everything to everything else’, and the absence of a unifying theory – not to mention that of a pussy- can lead to a mental fall-out."


Brian Logan, The Guardian

"Regrets? We all have a few. But not many of us condemned 300,000 innocent people to death. Small wonder Albert Einstein has nightmares. Twenty-two-year-old James Graham's new play pairs the shock-headed scientist with a young family friend, Peter Bucky, just returned to the US from the Korean War. Graham seeks to stoke an ethical battle between hot-headed American and world-weary European, between pro- and anti-atomic bomb. But, here at least, that argument is a no-brainer, and it takes two top-drawer performances to sustain the play as far as its incendiary conclusion. For the first half of Albert's Boy, there's nothing dramatic happening. It's just chat, and creaky chat at that. "You know," says Albert, "defining the concept of evil is almost as troublesome as defining the world we inhabit." Mild suspense is furnished by the fact that Bucky harbours a secret sickness. It transpires that war has shattered his nerves - and convinced him that nuclear carnage is a lesser evil than endless conflict. "I can't agree, Peter," says avuncular Albert - and it's hard not to toe the Einstein line. The ageing physicist is wracked with remorse at having helped develop the A-bomb, at not having hidden his discoveries from America as his former colleagues, he believes, hid theirs from the Nazis. Later, he regales us with a graphic description of the Hiroshima attack, replete (in Max Lewendel's production) with flaring lights and an apocalyptic rumble. As if the dramatic dice needed any further loading. But amid the debate there are pleasing, homely touches. "Maybe the key to unifying your theory," says Bucky to the scruffy professor, "is unifying your socks!" The actors are excellent. Gerard Monaco is downbeat then angrily emphatic as the damaged visitor. Victor Spinetti is luminously sympathetic as Einstein: twinkling in his hospitality, yet with eyes rimmed with tears that his best achievements may forever be overshadowed by his worst. That he was "passed the baton of science by Galileo, Newton, Faraday. And I dropped it."


Cheryl Freedman, What's On in London

"Penned by the Finborough’s writer-in-residence, James Graham, to tie in with the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Albert’s Boy is an extraordinary imagining of a meeting between Albert Einstein and his younger friend Peter Bucky in the early 1950s. Einstein is still plagued by guilt by the fact that his scientific research was used to build the atomic bombs that killed 300,000 innocent Japanese citizens. He believes America’s action signified the end of “armed-to-armed combat” and the beginning of “the use of terror and fear as a weapon” – a thought-provoking point given the current war on terrorism. Bucky, recently returned from fighting against communism in Korea, the horrors of combat fresh in his mind, reminds the scientist of the necessary evil of the bombs and the lives they saved: an estimated one million. Under Max Lewendel’s measured direction, this is a well-written, well-acted play that touches on historical events. Seasoned actor Victor Spinetti is outstanding as the German boffin, painting a portrait of a suitably disheveled professor that’s in turns moving and funny, but doesn’t resort to white-coated cliché. Gerard Monaco plays the reserved but disturbed Bucky with quiet dignity."

 

 

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