“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.
“an award-worthy piece that is pointedly political while being warmly hilarious and wonderfully entertaining”
Climate change is one of the burning issues of the moment. Some protest to try to bring about global action while others deny it.
The very daft, but utterly engaging “Two Super Super Hot Men” is a small play asking big questions from the perspective of people who might not ordinarily expect to be concerned by its impact. This is drag king comedy with a conscience.
Saying as much in 50 minutes as David Attenborough has in dozens of TV documentaries over many years Alan and Ron (the clownish alter-egos of performers Rosa Garland and Alice Boyd) give a thought-provoking and extremely funny perspective on global warming, the dangers of being ill-informed (and of blaming everybody else in a crisis), and a plant called Carol.
It is a knowingly ridiculous take on the issue as the two geeky middle-aged foley artists stuck in a small UK studio provide the sound effects for documentaries about climate change and begin to experience the shocking realities of the problem for themselves. Butter becomes sand, milk goes off in a warm fridge, water turns into stones as the pair get involved in increasingly absurd offshoots of the seriously-voiced factual programme.
Ron (Garland) regularly makes good strong Yorkshire tea and removes a collection of gaudy Hawaiian shirts while commenting on how hot it is; Alan (Boyd) has an alarm go off on his watch when it is time to tend beloved plant Carol, with whom he develops an interesting relationship and finds leaves sprouting from parts of his own body.
The two performers (who are also artistic directors and writers of the project) don’t put a foot wrong playing the two well-observed men, sprinkling the show with some terrific examples of mime, clown-like buffoonery and a working relationship that is spot on, particularly in some fast-fire conversation gags.
The humour begins the moment the audience arrives with the pair asking members to give them something that will make an interesting sound, then one does something with the item close to a microphone. So we get jangling keys (“that could be soft rain”), an opening and closing wallet (“sounds like a bat taking wing”) and a crinkly sweet wrapper (“that has to be a small squirrel”). We are cleverly misdirected into the duo’s world where the presence of a universal threat to life can be comfortably ignored.
An oft-repeated mantra is “If I didn’t do it and I didn’t do it then what are we worrying about!” – the cry of thousands who think the environmental crisis is only happening elsewhere in the world or is just a problem to be tackled by the next generation.
This is an award-worthy piece that is pointedly political while being warmly hilarious and wonderfully entertaining. It will be playing at the Brighton Fringe in May but deserves to be seen in theatres big and small, in schools and on street corners.
It’s one of the best examples of how Fringe theatre can tackle a contemporary concern with comedy and devastating directness. Let’s hope Alan and Ron can shine similar light on other significant environmental concerns in the future.