MTC has managed to pull off an intriguing, optimistic rom com that succeeds in both the romance and the comedy.
Kat Stewart and Peter Kowitz in Heisenberg. Image: Pia Johnson.
Many romantic comedies fail to be either romantic or comedic: Heisenberg, a delightful and sparse two-hander, manages to be both in unexpected ways. When the lights come up on Georgie Burns (Kat Stewart) and Alex Priest (Peter Kowitz), the two have just exchanged a seemingly unexpected kiss on a train platform. Drawn into each other’s orbits, the story which unfolds tracks the unlikely relationship between these two very different characters.
The power of these two performances is what makes this an extremely enjoyable night at the theatre. Stewart’s Georgie is dizzying: kinetic, a whirlwind of emotions, flipping seamlessly from vain and conceited to crushed by self-doubt and pain, a constant talker who is impossible to know. Georgie skirts right up to manic-pixie-dream-girl without ever falling in, in large part saved from the archetype by her willingness to work to her own ends. Kowitz as Alex is incredibly likeable and charming, simultaneously guarded and naively open, taking full advantage of the wry wit and emotional depth of Simon Stephens’ script. This is the third time that Melbourne Theatre Company has mounted one of Stephens’ plays in recent years (with Birdland in 2015 and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time last year) and audiences familiar with his work will recognise many of his central concerns, especially the idea of imperfect, difficult, halted socialisation and the loneliness and anxieties born of it.
Romantic might seem an odd way to describe the ensuing relationship which could, if handled less deftly, seem almost mercenary but everything isn’t just one thing here. Things are both calculated and accidental. Love is both a pragmatic contract between two people to avoid loneliness and something magical and undefinable. And these two are complex and whole characters, intriguing enough to make the 90 minutes fly.
The Heisenberg principle is a frequently misrepresented quantum theory that states that knowing what preceded an event does not make the outcome predictable: things are constantly indeterminate. Georgie watched her son every day but she still couldn’t predict what he was going to do. It’s a principle of unknowableness – but it actually doesn’t work very well as a metaphor. Alex and Georgie are thrust into unexpected circumstances but this is an anomaly, not the norm. It is not that Alex and Georgie are fundamentally indeterminate but actually the opposite: they are strikingly predictable, enough so that they can each find each other without making a date. Given the almost infinite possibilities of human expression, what is striking – and what Heisenberg is concerned with – is how frequently we fail to be unpredictable, how much we are victims of emotional and social inertia and creatures of habit.
And yet, the work is ultimately hopeful because despite going into the bank every week to withdraw the exact same amount, Alex always retains the possibility of doing something different. No matter how deep we are in a rut, no matter how lonely our rat race, the possibility of transformation always exists.
3.5 stars out of 5 ★★★☆
By Simon Stephens
Director: Tom Healey
Cast: Peter Kowitz, Kat Stewart
17 May-6 July 2019
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio