sat 23/03/2019

Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Udderbelly | reviews, news & interviews

Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Udderbelly

Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Udderbelly

Popular science show with a few whizz-bangs

Helen Arney, Matt Parker and Steve Mould are all scientists by training, comics by nature

Science has fallen in love with comedy – or maybe that should be the other way round. Whichever, geek is now chic, and being in possession of a brain is something to be laughed with, rather than at. All of which explains the popularity of Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage, or Dara Ó Briain's School of Hard Sums on the Dave channel, both of which employ a large dose of comedy to discuss some terrifically complex topics.

Helen Arney, Steve Mould and Matt Parker are all scientists by training and perform comedy separately as well as together under the moniker Festival of the Spoken Nerd. Their latest FOTSN offering, at the upturned Udderbelly purple cow in its annual summer pasture on London’s Southbank, is a sort of “best of” of their latest touring show, Full Frontal Nerdity, with some added material.

They each do individual spots: Mould is the whizz-bang expert, setting fire to things (don’t do this at home, folks!); Parker the “number ninja” mathematician and lover of spreadsheets that tell us how much we're laughing at stuff during the show; while Arney, a physicist with "the voice of an angle", sings about science and plays the electric ukulele. While one of them is centre-stage doing his or her shtick, the other two “heckle” or offer a sardonic commentary – a device that can appear insufferably smug at times.

Mould, a physicist, has all the show-stopper moments with his show-and-tell experiments, the danger of which he amusingly talks up - not least when he tries to make a sodium light from a vegetable plugged into the mains. But he delivers a lot of information while appealing to our sense of wonder at the everyday science around us. Parker has the best lines and worst puns; showing off the astonishing scarf his mother knitted for him with a message in code on it, he says: “It’s a binary scarf – you either like it or you don’t.” Arney’s musical interludes, while clever, don’t have the same zing, and her major contribution – shattering a wine glass with her voice – is hardly original.

The threesome perform with gusto  and you can learn lots of fun stuff – about synesthesia, toroidal vortices and an interesting use of the humble dill pickle, for instance. Some of this is really amusing, but one or two sections of the show go on way too long, and at times it feels like a disparate group of elements that don't quite form a compound. And, if I’m being totally honest, the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have been doing this sort of thing rather better since 1825.

Mould, a physicist, has all the show-stopper moments with his show-and-tell experiments


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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