“Copenhagen” comes to Abingdon

Project aims:

To engage local people with the inner functioning of the atom, and the moral challenges faced by the scientists who first elucidated it, via a dramatic reading of Michael Frayn's play "Copenhagen".


To perform that play in Abingdon School's Amey Theatre in Abingdon on 13 March 2013

To ensure that the performance is of a high standard by engaging experienced amateur actors.

To widely publicise the performance through local media, and via the Oxfordshire Science Festival

To attract an audience of 200 people to the event

This project was supported by an IOP public engagement grant.

Summary of activity:


I saw Copenhagen performed as a dramatic reading (i.e. the actors reading from their scripts on stage) at the ESOF conference in July 2012. It made me realise that by doing it in this way, the play was within our reach, whereas previously I had considered it to be too complicated for us to stage. I decided to bring the event to Oxfordshire as part of the Science Festival. Abingdon is the closest town to Harwell, the birthplace of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme, but the town’s connection with that part of scientific history is today little known to its inhabitants.

The rights to the play were bought in autumn 2012 (£73). Abingdon School were approached to host the play in their Amey Theatre, and a local amateur dramatic group (with whom we had an existing contact) was approached to perform the play.



The event formed part of the Oxfordshire Science Festival in 2013, and was featured in the Festival brochure. 30,000 of these were distributed around the county in the weeks running up to the Festival launch on 9 March.

The event featured in Science Oxford’s Spring brochure, distributed to 1,000 people.

The event featured on Science Oxford’s Twitter feed (4,000 followers) and Facebook page (700 likes).

In order to attract people who are not already engaged with Science Oxford, or the Oxfordshire Science festival, the event, and Abingdon’s role in scientific history, a 400 word feature appeared in the January “Science Matters” column in the Oxford Times (text attached). It was also featured in Science Oxford’s regular slot on Radio Oxford’s Drivetime programme on 19 February.

Evaluation approach:

Standard was evaluated qualitatively, through our own experiences of theatre, and using the Dana Centre Indicators of Dialogue.

Publicity was tracked.

Audience numbers were counted.

What went well:

The performance was very successful, and the venue and actors were of an excellent quality. In particular, the decision to pay a small fee to the actors meant that we had a businesslike relationship with them, meaning that we weren’t relying on their goodwill.

The event broke even financially,thanks to the funding from the IoP

There was a high level of audience engagement with the topics raised by the event, as evidenced by the post event discussion.

What was learned:

The total audience was around 100, which was only half what we had expected, and much less than we had hoped for.

The school were initially confident that a large number of their students and parents would attend, but these failed to materialise. We should have kept a closer eye on their efforts in this regard, as we could probably have boosted numbers in other ways, but we were complacent about their ability to deliver an audience for us.

Frank Close, the local physicist and author, was scheduled to introduce the event and chair the after show dscussion, but he had to withdraw, meaning that I had to do it.

Top tips and advice for others

This was a successful way of bringing a difficult play to life. I would recommend it to anyone looking to have a highbrow physics activity. However, you should be aware that there is a significant barrier to people coming to this sort of event,no matter how high its quality, and no matter how widely it is publicised.

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