We chatted to the director about bringing Alan Brody’s Operation Epsilon to the UK, presenting it at the Southwark Playhouse from the 15th September.

Hi Andy, how does it feel to be bringing Operation Epsilon to the UK? It is incredibly exciting to be bringing Operation Epsilon to London. Considering the play is set in
England, this has always been a dream of ours to see this play find a life in the UK. Though we staged the world premiere in the United States ten years ago, the play has grown even more relevant as we continue to grapple with questions of scientific and technological advances having inevitable moral and human consequences. I also am incredibly excited to be working with this UK cast and team.

How did you first come across Alan Brody’s play? Our producer Ellen Berman brought me the script almost fifteen years ago. She had seen an informal reading presented by Alan as part of the Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT, a theatre-science collective which Alan co-founded. Ellen was on the Council for the Arts at MIT — yes, MIT has a Council for the Arts! She was looking for a director to help Alan develop the play further, and we were introduced by a classmate of mine from university. Alan and I were perhaps the least likely of pairings, but I was quite taken with the script, and I’m grateful that Ellen brought us all together for this thrilling journey.

What attracted you the most about bringing this story to the stage? I could not believe this story was so unknown to me — and still remains unknown to so many others.
The transcripts that inspired the play were classified for many years, so this compelling piece of history was buried in the archives. Growing up in America, we learned about Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project, but no one really knew the story of these ten German scientists who were held captive in England by the Allies after the end of World War II.

Upon reading the script, I was drawn to the size and scale of this story. On a technical level, it is incredibly satisfying to have the opportunity to direct an eleven-person ensemble with a two-level, multi-room set. To have a producer who has supported me and Alan at every step of realising that vision has been a true gift. Beyond the exciting challenges of staging a massive play like this, it’s been fascinating to explore the relationships between these eleven men and their distinct perspectives.

Moreover, I was excited by the opportunity to collaborate with Alan in bringing these characters to life, and working to realise a version of this play that took more dramatic license at each step while still staying true to the history and the science.

How has it been seeing the show develop over the years? Each time, it’s like reconnecting with an old friend – we pick up where we left off but still find ways to discover the world with fresh eyes. We have had some wonderful actors step into these roles through various readings and productions, and I’m always excited to see how a true ensemble forms around this particular play. I am particularly looking forward to London audiences having the opportunity to see these actors tackle this play; it’s a truly wonderful cast.

I was reflecting recently on my nearly fifteen years working on this play, when I first came to the piece as a director, I was in my mid-20s… younger than any of the characters in this play. Now, I am fairly certain I’m older than half our cast. (Maybe one day I’ll get to work on a revival as the elder in the room.) Each time I revisit this play – whether in auditions, development, or performances – I love to rediscover the scenes newly through the lens of each character’s unique perspective. I continue to uncover something new even when I least expect it.

What do you think will resonate with audiences the most about the story? I hope that many audiences will discover a chapter of history that is not well known. Moreover, I
expect that audiences will reflect more deeply on how we all have moments that require us to examine the moral implications of our work and accomplishments. What has kept me glued to this play for so many years is that the questions raised in it are timeless, and I could continue talking about this play endlessly. Nothing is black and white, and Operation Epsilon emphasises how – particularly when it comes to our reputations – we all engage in varying shades of gray on an infinite spectrum.

By Emma Clarendon

Operation Epsilon will play at the Southwark Playhouse from the 15th September until the 21st October.


%d bloggers like this: