Cavern – The Vaults
Reviewed – 14th March 2020
“well acted and directed, and O’Mahony and Stevens draw the audience in with plenty of eye contact, and easy charm”
Fireworks, by Alex Robins, about the search for the Higgs boson using the Large Hadron Collider, sounds like an intriguing proposition for a play. Robins developed the project with assistance from Plymouth Fringe, and the Plymouth Theatre Royal. His cast and crew, (director Jack Bradfield, dramaturg Jim Newton, and performers Gráinne O’Mahony and James Murphy-Stevens), helped Robins get the script in shape. And let’s not forget the guidance from Plymouth University’s Mathematical Sciences group, regarding the search for the Higgs boson, aka The God particle. Robins takes this quest and turns it into a drama to explain why theoretical physicists—and conspiracy theorists—are so hung up on Higgs and his boson.
Fireworks begins with a series of mini lectures about the standard model in theoretical physics by River, a young scientist, played very convincingly by O’Mahony. Her opposite number is Drew (Stevens), a young man obsessed with conspiracy theories such as the Mandela Effect, which suggests that the reason people remember facts, or events, differently, is that we are all in parallel universes in a “multiverse”. Running on different timelines, these universes sometimes intersect, and that is where the confusion begins. Not surprisingly, genuine scientists despair of ideas like these floating around on the world wide web. But anyway. While River spends her days explaining quarks to her ever dwindling pool of students, Drew plots to break into the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland to stop his universe disappearing when it is switched on in search of the Higgs boson.
Director Bradfield presents the action in the Cavern at VAULT Festival, with the audience seated on either side of the performance area. Set within this area, is a circular space with a ring of blinking lights. Every time an actor steps into the circular space, the lights change colour. The lights are also moving, sometimes at speed, meant to represent subatomic particles as they accelerate within the Collider. It’s a simple, but effective device. What is not so effective is the writing. Robins, for the most part, presents his drama as two monologues. It’s a good idea in theory (since his characters not only represent opposing points of view, but, from Drew’s perspective at least, different times) that doesn’t work that well in practice. There’s just too much exposition needed to clue the audience in. The connection between Drew and River doesn’t emerge in any concrete fashion until the end, and hence feels tacked on. Even the explosive ending—which I won’t describe in detail, because, spoilers—doesn’t integrate all that well into the rest of the play.
Nevertheless, Fireworks is well acted and directed, and O’Mahony and Stevens draw the audience in with plenty of eye contact, and easy charm. So watch this production without fear—you (and the rest of the audience) will exit the VAULT Festival in exactly the same universe that you entered.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer