Review: Calculated Risk

“Could it be possible that war becomes so terrible that it outlaws itself?”

Ron Hutchinson’s Calculated Risk, the second play in the first half of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history, is an excellent debate on the morality and the reality of adopting a nuclear weapons programme. Set in the second half of 1945, the play focuses on Clement Atlee’s dilemma as he came into power as Prime Minister just days before the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a move sanctioned by Churchill’s government, and was put under pressure to decide on what Great Britain’s nuclear policy would be.

The main part of the piece is a sustained discussion between Attlee and his key advisors: Field Marshal Grierson, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and scientist William Penney who are each pursuing their own agendas, and following their own instincts, in debating this huge issue. And Hutchinson spells it all out with great clarity, pitting the inevitability of scientific advance against ethics and the notion of free will, the morality of choosing an option that would undoubtedly result in huge civilian loss of life against the political expediency of warning potential enemies of what they might face.

Bookended by scenes which illuminate the dance of power between the UK and the US in terms of knowing exactly what the other is up to and how they have progressed, Calculated Risk was gripping from start to finish. Michael Cochrane’s rather equitable Attlee acting more as a moderator in the debate with Simon Chandler excelling as the military man passionately against a weapon that could only be used in response to the ascertaining of a probability of attack and Rick Warden bringing a scientist’s cold analytical logic to his answers.

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