Andy Sandberg directs the UK première of Alan Brody’s award-winning play Operation Epsilon, which will play at Southwark Playhouse Elephant.
Inspired by actual transcripts that were secretly recorded and then held classified for many decades, Operation Epsilon tells the true story of Germany’s ten foremost nuclear scientists who were rounded up and held captive by the British and American forces toward the end of World War II. While there in England, these men learned that that the Americans beat them to the atomic bomb.
Directed by Andy Sandberg, who helmed the world premiere in the U.S., the London production opens at Southwark Playhouse Elephant on 20 September, with previews from 15 September, and runs until 21 October.
Operation Epsilon is coming to the UK for the first time, what can you tell us about this play?
Operation Epsilon is the true story of ten German scientists who were held captive in England by the Brits and Americans at the end of World War II. It’s inspired by actual transcripts of secretly recorded conversations that were sealed for many years.
When these were declassified, Alan Brody crafted a compelling play that examines this chapter of history and explores the ethical and moral consequences of these character’s actions. It’s a true ensemble play with a cast of eleven characters, including three Nobel Prize winners in Werner Heisenberg, Otto Hahn, and Max von Laue.
What was it about Alan Brody’s script that first enticed you to be part of this production?
I was drawn in by the play’s ambitious nature – it’s a big play tackling epic questions. As a director, I am excited by new plays that offer a challenge, and in the case of Operation Epsilon, the challenge and the fun have been in creating a true ensemble piece while also examining the distinct characters and relationships within this play.
These are historical figures, yes, but my primary job has been to examine the human element of the play… to look at these men and this script through a dramaturgical lens.
How does it feel being part of a production from its very inception?
Most of the plays that I direct are new works, and I love getting in at the ground level. Being brought in by our producer to collaborate with Alan at such an early stage has been a big part of the thrill for me. I have had the opportunity to see this play at every step of its journey for the past fifteen years.
It’s had a successful run in the US, what did you learn from that ahead of the UK run?
The US premiere was an incredible experience, and I’d say the success of that run gave us confidence to trust that audiences are hungry for a smart and thought-provoking play. Alan and I had been collaborating on the play for a few years already prior to that production, and though we’d had positive feedback from our readings and workshops, this was the first audience that was open to the public.
Audiences from Boston and Cambridge (Massachusetts) ranged from theatre-lovers who saw every show in New York and Boston to Nobel Prize-winning scientists and authors who worked at MIT and Harvard. I’m hopeful London will reach a similarly wide-ranging audience. Plus, having a lengthy run in Boston allowed me to continue watching the play with new questions in mind, and exploring each character’s perspectives more deeply.
It’s a big cast, what challenges does that present you as director?
The kinds of challenges that I love. Alan and I have challenged each other over the years to justify every single character’s existence in this play. It is important to find distinct voices and relationships for each of these men. Plus, it’s a real opportunity to explore exciting stage pictures; we as humans don’t tend to share every thought through dialogue. (Also, at the risk of spoiling some theatre magic, some of those challenges manifest backstage in terms of navigating everyone around!)
What would you say to audiences thinking of booking to see Operation Epsilon?
There is a reason I have stayed passionate about this play for nearly fifteen years, and the questions raised in this play have continued to spark conversation from friends and colleagues who saw it many years ago. For better and for worse, depending on your perspective on the world, the themes in the play have grown more timely with each passing year. Plus, we’ve assembled a truly first-rate cast for the UK premiere; they’re all absolutely brilliant, and I think this is going to be a particularly special production.