Three weeks or so ago I reviewed Origin Of Species… (click here) the first part of Tangram Theatre’s Scientrilogy all about Charles Darwin. So, I thought it was about time I caught up with the other two elements (!) Both Relatively Speaking and The Element In The Room follow the same formula (!!) as set out in the first show. John Hinton delivers a comedy science lecture from and potted history of Albert Einstein and Marie Curie respectively; having tackled biology, it’s now time for physics and chemistry to go under the microscope (!!!)
Albert Einstein: Relatively Speaking, to give the show its full title (presumably this is to stop any mix ups with Alan Ayckbourn’s celebrated play) takes us through the famous theory of relativity at a fair gallop in the supposed setting of a lecture at Princeton University in 1933. From there we are shuttled backwards and forwards in time (well, it is about Einstein) and are shown how the theory was developed and what came about as a result of it being published. Mostly the explanations are achieved through audience participation as they play bodies which are attracted to each other – in both senses – while Hinton as Einstein bounces around the stage like the proverbial mad scientist channelling the spirit of Magnus Pyke. [If you’re not of a certain age, you probably won’t have a ghost of a notion of who I’m talking about, so here’s a link to his biography. Suffice to say that in 1975, in a readers’ poll to discover the best-known scientist, Pyke came third after Newton and Einstein] And if you want to find out whether Einstein can rap, then you’re in the right place.
Hinton is aided and abetted by Jo Eagle who plays both the scientist’s wives as well as Mrs Einstein Senior; as the learned professor notes, it is lucky that “they all look so similar”. In fact, her actual reason for being there is to help out with the musical side of things. There are fewer songs and more science in this second episode but then explaining the theory of relativity is possibly less easy to get across than that of evolution (yeah, right!) The effect of imparting all the necessary scientific fact audiencewards is to lower the humour quotient this time round. Indeed, towards the end, the piece becomes quite sombre in tone; after all it is difficult to examine events like the dropping of the atomic bomb (one direct result of Einstein’s work) in a light musical comedy. However, Hinton’s genial style and his way with an atrocious pun or two, manages to make the whole thing palatable. In the closing minutes the introduction of an Einstein’s brain puppet means the piece finishes on a positive note; perhaps it should have appeared earlier.
Hinton is again joined by Eagle in The Element In the Room; this time she is Pierre Curie who, if this version of history is to be believed, was a stereotypical French accordion player in stripy jumper and beret. Hinton, of course, plays the scientist with a Polish (?) accent, though in this show he drops in and out of character to provide his own narration. The tale he tells is probably the least familiar to me and largely concerns how Curie is lured over to America to collect a single gram of the chemical she desperately needs and meets up with a great deal of prevarication while she is paraded in front of all sort of socialites and the media – much to her intense annoyance. Indeed, Curie seems to have been a difficult woman to like/love and in the latter stages of her life the show demonstrates how she is haunted by the feeling she may have contributed to the death of her husband. Once again, the jolly japes which characterised the Darwin piece seem to go missing and the scientific theory becomes even trickier than in the Einstein show – if that is possible. In the central interlude the audience are corralled into helping out with a demonstration of a radioactive decay chain with the aid of a green ball of string. This goes on for far too long and to be honest I’m not sure I’m any the wiser than I was before.
The show, as performed in this recording, is in a black box format which means there is a great deal of mime to make up for lack of props. I don’t know whether all performances of the piece were given in that way but it means Hinton has to work extra hard to retain interest and while mostly he succeeds this element could have done with a little money spent on it.
While it is good to see that Hinton has included one female scientist in his homage to research and discovery, overall the trilogy suffers from somewhat diminishing returns. Perhaps watching two together was a bit much in the brain overload department. Or maybe it’s because, of the three main branches of science I always found biology more to my taste than the other two. Or perhaps even more simply it’s that the latter two pieces have not evolved (!!!!) far enough away from the Darwinian original to avoid stylistic repetition. All three pieces provide entertaining introductions to the work of the scientific trio in a vein reminiscent of Horrible Histories. This might be of use to anyone attempting to educate a child at the moment; just don’t try to replicate the experiments at home!
Both shows are available via the Scenesaver website. For Albert Einstein: Relatively Speaking, click here and for The Element in The Room, click here
The first part of the Scientriology, Origin Of Species… can be found here
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