New End, Hampstead
By JOHN NATHAN
CarlDjerassi is playwright who works from the probably unique perspective of anaward-winning scientist. He invented the contraceptive pill.
Hisstrength as a writer is in expressing ideas rather than emotions. But playswith ideas are a rare thing, so don’t knock it.
Inspiredby a real-life case, Djerassi’s concerns here are about how the value ofart—in this case a bronze statue thought to be of Roman origin—isdefined and affected by its authenticity.
Atstake are the reputations of Regina Leitner-Opfermann (Karen Archer)—headof the Viennese museum’s antiquities department where the statue isdisplayed as the institution’s pride and joy—and Rex Stolzfuss(Jack Klaff), the chemical scientist whose research suggests that the age ofthe piece is more Renaissance than Roman.
Abattle ensues between the academics over who is right. Dragged into the row aretheir assistants Emma (Lucy Liemann) and Otto (Hamish Clark).
Djerassialso shifts the period of the play to the 16th century, where we seeDon Juan of Austria (Chris Brazier) and his mother (Lynette Edwards) providehistorical answers as to the fate of the original statue.
Butbeyond the clash between scientific and artistic approaches to art, what holdsthe interest in Andy Jordan’s slick and expensive-looking production arethe fascinating methods deployed by experts in attributing a work ofart’s origin. On this, Djerassi knows his stuff, giving the sense thatboth we and the play are in the hands of a capable playwright and an expertscientist.