Thursday, 26 February 2015

Curtain-up for science-based theatre

From the intimate lives of Newton and Darwin to personal accounts of obsessive compulsive disorder and the first humans on Mars, a choice of new and profound science-based theatre brings a dramatic edge to this year’s Cambridge Science Festival (9-22 March).

Isaac Newton… heretic, alchemist, genius. On Thursday 12 March in Let Newton Be! (commissioned by the Faraday Institute), the complex and controversial character of Sir Isaac Newton, a devout, difficult, obsessive man who sought and believed he had found God in universal laws of light and motion, will be brought to life. Theatrical, entertaining and informative, the play provides an alternative way to see the world of Newton; it explores the life and thoughts of a genius whose scientific theories still provide the foundations for our understanding of the Universe today.

Newton is well-known as an iconic figure, but as a man, he remains a mystery to many. Award-winning playwright Craig Baxter shows how Newton’s religious worldview was intimately involved in the process of discovery. The play uses only Newton's words and those of his contemporaries to tell the story of his passionate pursuit to understand the Universe. Let Newton Be! is a verbatim play with a script drawn entirely from letters, notes, published and unpublished works.

The show is directed by Patrick Morris (Associate Artistic Director of Menagerie) and uses three actors – all playing the part of Newton – with video and clever stage design by Issam Kourbaj (Artist in Residence at Christ’s College, Cambridge) to bring Newton alive for a 21st century audience. Theatrically simple and powerful, three incarnations of Newton battle with each other for their place in history.

Trained as a scientist himself, playwright Craig Baxter weaves a compelling narrative to show Newton in many different lights.

Speaking about his experience directing the show, Patrick Morris, said: “Let Newton Be! takes the public and private writings of Isaac Newton and distills that into theatre. A near-impossible task, as Newton was never known for neat dramatic phrasing. Playwright Craig Baxter took the challenge on, coming up with an inspired approach to creating a believable character from such a dislikeable, self-centred man. Not content with writing one Newton for the stage, Baxter created three. He imagines Newton as a curious young boy, an obsessively driven experimenter, and a confident, powerful public figure. The three co-exist and interact, allowing the audience to see Newton in the company of the person he trusted most in the world - himself.

“For a director, this is a gift: it allows me to be playful and wide-ranging in how we represent this most iconic of scientific figures. The production is essentially a playground for Newton's mind, using all the theatrical elements of words, light, movement, sound and image. We see and hear the ideas, the struggles and the questions, but we also feel the beating heart of a human being who remains controversial and mysterious 300 years after his death.”

Alongside new dramatic works, such as This Room, the Cambridge Science Festival is also excited to have Curious Directive, 2014 Fringe First winners, as theatre company in residence. On Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 March, Curious Directive return to the Cambridge Junction with their multimedia sci-fi thriller, Pioneer, a poignant tale of the first humans on Mars. Millions of kilometres from Earth, a young couple slowly uncover the true nature of their mission.

The show is set in 2029. The first human mission to Mars disappeared without a trace and a reclusive Indian billionaire has funded Ghara I, a new attempt. In Siberia, two Russian brothers reconnect by driving a Lada Sputnik 1.3 in search of the birth of space travel. At the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, Maartje holds onto a secret about her sister. On Mars, Imke and Oskar, a young Dutch couple, are mysteriously separated. Pioneer shuttles you from the Garden of Eden to mission control and onto the surface of Mars.

The first night will be followed by a post-show discussion with the scientific collaborator on the project, Dr Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiology research scientist, presenter and author.

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