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Courtesy Ottawa Fringe.

Fringe Review: TED HALL: The True Story Of The American Teenager Who Gave The Atom Bomb To Russia

By Bruce Burwell on June 20, 2022

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TED HALL: The True Story Of The American Teenager Who Gave The Atom Bomb To Russia
Created by Jem Rolls
Produced by big word performance (Finchampstead, UK)
60m | 14+ | History

Have you seen a Jem Rolls show before? If you have, then you likely already know whether you’re going to see Ted Hall. And it’s pretty likely you’re going.

I had seen one of Jem’s earlier history shows before, The Inventor Of All Things. I loved it and was keen to see this brand-new show, which had its world premiere right here in Ottawa last night.

Jem tells us the story of Ted Hall, a brilliant young physicist. Ted graduated from Harvard at the age of 18 in 1944 and was scooped up by the U.S. government to work on the development of the atom bomb in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Ted became concerned that the U.S. is too far ahead of the rest of the world in atomic development and, while still a teenager, decided to pass key atomic secrets to the Soviet Union to level the playing field.

Jem tells us that the lives of spies do not usually end well, but Ted seems to have gotten away with it. He ended up dying in the late 1990s without ever being arrested. We hear about some other spies whose trajectories were much more tragic. Klaus Fuchs confessed to passing Manhattan project secrets to the USSR and was imprisoned for many years. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for their role in passing atomic secrets.

In the end, Jem brings the story back to the moral question at its heart: Did Ted do the right thing? And he lets the audience decide.

Jem delivers the story in his performance poetry style. He moves around the stage and uses his voice and exaggerated body movements to deliver Ted’s story. In doing some Google research, I found one reviewer who described him as the love child of Eminem and John Cleese, and while that’s a bit unfair to all three individuals, it does get at some important aspects of his performing style. Like Cleese, he’s tall, British, intelligent, articulate and a little bit deadpan in his delivery. Like Eminem, he can push words out at a furious rate and make it a struggle, but a pleasure, to keep up. Ted Hall was definitely a pleasure to keep up with. Jem told this little-known spy story of the war and asked the biggest possible question there is: What is right and what is wrong?

The ODD Box was almost full on opening night and I predict there will be sellouts in the coming days.


TED HALL: The True Story Of The American Teenager Who Gave The Atom Bomb To Russia by Jem Rolls is playing at ODD Box (2 Daly Avenue, Ottawa) until June 26, 2022. Tickets are $12 online (plus a $2 processing fee) and at the door. Visit ottawafringe.com for the schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at https://apt613.ca/category/festival/fringe/.

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