Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking [FringeTIX]
Tangram Theatre Company @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio
6:00pm, Tue 11 Feb 2014
After the fun and intelligent take on Charles Darwin that Tangram Theatre brought to Adelaide in 2012, the mention of the same creative team taking on the life & work of Albert Einstein instantly caused a tick to appear in the “Must See” column of the Scheduling Spreadsheet; the fact that Holden Street allowed very early preview performances meant that this show was locked in.
But, initially, I was fearful: John Hinton’s appearance onstage as (a convincing) Einstein was accompanied by a pre-recorded introduction to the “lecture” he would be presenting… and it felt very – well, cheap. Forced, even. And when the first musical number came along (yes, there was exposition through song), Hinton’s clever lyrics were overwhelmed by the keyboards played by Einstein’s second wife (Jo Eagle, who remained mute throughout as she took on the occasional roles of Albert’s mother & both his wives).
And so, only ten minutes in, I was teetering on the edge of abject disappointment.
But then, to support the “lecture” that Einstein was delivering, Hinton embarks on his first physics lesson with the support of the audience: he arranges a love affair with an older woman and my old friend Dmitry to teach us about the inertial frame of reference, and uses another audience pairing (including a terrified young woman, a vacuum cleaner, and a light sabre) to add the constant nature of the speed of light to present the Theory of Special Relativity. There’s more songs explaining theorems and concepts, and it’s all pretty cleverly written – even if the musical descriptions of physical concepts weren’t always bang-on.
The highlight of Hinton’s script (and musical embellishment) is undoubtedly the appearance of rapper MC Squared: it’s a brilliantly pun-laden rap with a confusingly fun gesture-along exercise for the audience. And, rather than asking for audience volunteers (as per other interactions), I was plucked straight out of the thirty-odd crowd to play the role of Sir Arthur Eddington in conversation with Einstein… I’d like to think that I carried off the toffy English accent, gammy leg, and chicken clucking required of the character pretty well ;)
But when we start talking about the Manhattan Project – and the realisation that Einstein’s work (like Nobel’s) had been used to kill hundreds of thousands of people, there’s a definite poignancy in the script; introduced by a relatively stark piece of exposition through newspaper headlines, a slow and almost mournful song laments the outcome of his work. The denouement is a tricky thing, trying to clamber back some laughs and not completely succeeding… but there’s so much fun to be had in the middle that it’s easy to forgive the closing minutes.
Whilst nowhere near as polished as his previous show, Relativitively Speaking is still an entertaining – and educational – performance. Hinton’s performance is grinningly good (despite some dialogue being obscured by the over-hot music), and Eagle’s sparse character accompaniment was fantastic – the snarl from Einstein’s first wife was superb. The embedded physics lessons are pretty good – certainly more fun than the lectures I sat through at uni! – with the historical content being used for both comedy and emotional weight. And with a bunch of lovely subtle touches (like the application of T=Al^C to facilitate ageing), this became a show that satisfied on many levels.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) February 11, 2014