The Physicists

by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
translated by James Kirkup

directed by Judy Rake

Performed at the

Nuffield Theatre


Monday 24th, Wednesday 26th to Saturday 29th January 1972

 Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Physicists is one of many physicist-centred dramas written in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time the potential that scientific innovation held was largely seen in the awesome destructive power of the atomic and hydrogen bombs. Science seemed to have outstripped man's ability to utilize it for the betterment of humanity. The Cold War, the arms race, and policies of mutually assured destruction suggested that instead science was too easily being used for bad -- indeed, literally world-threatening -- ends. Man could not be trusted with the knowledge that physicists were able to discover.
Dürrenmatt's physicists take one of the few options available to them to keep the knowledge they have from falling into hands ill-prepared to do what is best with it: they get themselves locked up in a mental institution.
The Physicists begins with a murder. A patient has murdered a nurse at the sanatorium. Because he is believed to be insane the criminal investigation is a largely superficial one. But the inspector does note his annoyance: three months earlier another patient had murdered another nurse.
Three physicists live together in the wing. One believes he is Einstein, one believes he is Newton (but occasionally tells people that he is in fact Einstein, though "in fact he really believes he is Newton"), and one understands that he is Johann Wilhelm Möbius but believes King Solomon talks to him. In fact, however, the three physicists are all sane.
Möbius feigns insanity because he discovered the "Unitary Theory of Elementary Particles". And he doesn't feel mankind is ready for the consequences:

The result is -- devastating. New and inconceivable forces would be unleashed, making possible a technical advance that would transcend the wildest flights of fantasy if my findings were to fall into the hands of mankind.

The men who pretend to be Einstein and Newton are physicists in the employ of intelligence services, representing the Western and Eastern powers of Cold War times, sent there to get Möbius' great discovery.
The murders of the nurses were necessary, because each grew too convinced that the patients were, in fact, sane. At the end of the first act Möbius finds himself with the same dilemma and sees murder as the only way to protect his secret.
Things are further complicated, in the form of the founder of the sanatorium, Fräulein Doktor Mathilde von Zahnd, who is the only one who appears truly mentally unstable. She too knows more than she originally let on, and before they know it the physicists find they have dug themselves a hole out of which they can not easily escape.

Dürrenmatt's comedy is very clever, and the situation he puts his characters in an ingenious and amusing one. The moral dilemma of the modern scientist no longer excites quite as much as it did at the height of the Cold War, but it is still a very effective play.

The Cast
Irene Straub Angela Dean
Police Inspector Richard Voss Graham Buchanan
Marta Boll, the matron Ann Pennington-Legh
Blocher, a police photographer Peter White
Guhi, a police stenographer David Bartlett
Police doctor Geoffrey Wharam
Policeman Ronald Avery
Herbert Georg Beutler (Newton), a patient Peter Neve
Fräulein Doktor Mathilde von Zahnd, alientist Joy Steele
Ernst Heinrich Ernesti (Einstein), a patient Kenneth Spencer
Frau Lina Rose Betty Riggs
Oskar Rose, her husband, a missionary Alan Newell
Adolf - Friedrich    )
Wilfried - Kaspar   ) their sons
Jorg - Lukas           )
Paul Cole
Philip Manns
Graham Barnes
Johann Wilhelm Möbius, a patient David Pike
Monika Stettler, a nurse Molly Manns
Uwe Sievers, chief male attendant Michael Shailer
McArthur, male attendant David Dudley
Murillo, male attendant John Greenhouse


For the Maskers:  
Directed by Judy Rake
Stage Manager Keith Hooper
Assistant Stage Manager Ron Tillyer
Production Assistants Avril Woodward, Angela Stephens
Artistic coordinator Ray Green
Wardrobe Mistress Jo Bartlett
Lighting Design Derek Jones
Lighting Ivan White
Sound W.J.Arnold, Geoff Grandy
Photographs Serena Brown
Publicity John Carrington


Thank You

Your message has been sent. You should receive a confirmation email shortly. If the email does not arrive it is possible that your email address was not entered correctly, please try resubmitting your enquiry.

Shirley's own LOCAL theatre!

Maskers Theatre Company
Off Emsworth Road
SO15 3LX

Registered Charity 900067

Established 1968

 Contact Us


Our postal address is: Maskers Theatre Company, Unit 1, Off Emsworth Road, Shirley, Southampton, SO15 3LX

General Enquiries Form

Please use this contact form for contacting us about any issue. Use the drop-down list to ensure your enquiry gets directed to the correct person.

Any contact details provided will only be used in relation to your inquiry and will be deleted after conclusion.

 Support Us

 Join Us

Join our Email list
and receive updates
about our shows

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Are you a member of Maskers Theatre Company?

The Maskers Theatre Company will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing by email. Please confirm you would like to hear from us by ticking the box below:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.


 Update Contact Details

Other local theatre events

Some of our performance venues:
Maskers Studio Theatre
The Berry Theatre
Townhill Park House

View our Image Gallery

Access Members Site (Maskers Members only)