Thursday, 26 February 2015

Theatre and Science and Rambles

If this blog has a theme, it is confusion. Sure, I do the odd review that makes grand statements about theatre, and throw around critical theories like a chimp chucking faeces, but I am determined that I perform my confusion in public: a kind of antidote to the shower of perfect lifestyle choices that serve for Facebook status updates. 

If I am not confused, I am not paying attention. 

If you fancy a critic who is more certain, try every print publication ever.

This week, I have seen a play that reminded me of theatre's immediacy, wit and power, and a play that made me worry that theatre is slipping slowly into a self-indulgent oblivion. But I am also interested in the Cambridge Science Festival's programme of Science Theatre: a musical about Darwin, a three-hander about Newton (which does not balk at Mr Gravity's religious beliefs) and a solo piece about OCD. 

Although I have frequently found theatrical explorations of science to be either trivial or too dense (even the wonderful Plan B faltered in their attempt on quantum physics through dance, and the less said about Wayne McGregor's Wellcome Institute funded routines the better), the valiant desire to use theatre as a medium for public discussion of ideas is admirable. 

Of course, the cinema likes to have a go at this, too: the controversial Oscar victory for that bloke who did Stephen Hawkings in The Theory of Everything, that one where Darwin got all upset about his dead daughter  and developed the theory of Natural Selection between depressive bouts of grieving. However, these are usually self-conscious displays of intelligence by an industry that is usually too stupid to understand complex narrative techniques, and ends up being hagiography for the Big White Males of Science.

If these plays in Cambridge are any good, though, they can perform a dual service. They can remind theatre that it is a medium that can tell more intriguing stories than another bout of First World Problems. Then they can give audiences a taste of how science works, and offer up the ideas of Natural Selection et al for the iconic 'chat in the bar after'. 

If science has any purpose other than being a badge of pride for people who once read half of a book by Richard Dawkins, then it could be a guide to thinking about the world around us.

If theatre had any purpose beyond providing work for languid graduates of the humanities, it could be as a vehicle for energising public debate.

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