This review was originally written for The Public Review.
Exploding balloons and nitrogen bottles, rockets fired into the audience and lightning on stage are sure ways to get everyone excited.
This is the start of Science Museum’s involvement in a large scale live theatre show bringing what the press release calls the “wider understanding, engagement and enjoyment of the Science Museum Groups’ key areas of specialisation and expertise”. The show is a good beginning for this and certainly fulfils the remit of trying to get an audience to engage and understand science. The show explains different forms of energy in a scientific and engaging way with experiments, mostly danger-tinged to explain the theories. The setup is that two students have only limited time to prepare a presentation explaining the different types of energy, the outcome of which is judged by the audience.
First and foremost, science makes up the large bulk of the show, helpfully assisted by the animation character I-nstein through the big IMAX screen. It is also a good device to fill the gaps while preparation is made on stage for experiments. The interaction between the two students Phil and Annabella is adequate; although the characters’ difference in personality is extensively explained at the beginning, it is only tangentially referred to throughout the show and could be developed further. The third character Bernard is mute so as to balance the sparkliness of Phil and Annabella whilst adding the love interest element in a reasonable attempt to diversify the story line.
Nonetheless, the basic purpose of the show is to both educational and entertaining which it achieves. The science is not dumbed down and the show is not afraid to pack every scientific section with a lot of information. It may be a little overwhelming if this is new material but at least it is there to be digested if one is willing. The choice of experiments is of course bounded by the limits of safety but it is a reasonable selection with just enough element of risk to keep everyone entertained. The final presentation is a clever crescendo of demonstrations which also acts as a summary of the show.
The performances of Rachel Loughran as the rule-abiding and upright Annabella and Denise Hoey as the explosion and Star War-loving, slightly unhinged Phil are energetic. The direction by Martin Lamb has found the right balance of enthusiasm and sincerity. This is an accomplished show which achieves what it sets out to do. There is certainly something to enjoy and take away for the whole family, may it be empty missile bottles or snippets of scientific knowledge.