Science: The Musical

CHRIS BORN is reasonably entertained by this scientific musical.

chris born Corpus Playroom lateshow Musical science science the musical

Corpus Playroom, 9.30 PM, February 18th-22nd, £6/5.

“Who could have thought science could be so dramatic?”, quips our main character Janice (Alana Mailes) in a lull between musical numbers. I am not so sure. A bright script executed with some lacklustre performances left a frustrated, confused impression.

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The story itself is easy enough to follow: Janice, a “young enthusiastic graduate student”, has been accepted to speak at a conference, but she has one problem – she doesn’t have a subject to speak on. Her compelling journey to form a presentable paper is the source of drama for our evening, though we quickly become aware that the writer (Andrew Goldman) is not aiming for a character-driven dramatic piece. Science is fun!or so we are led to believe, at least for the next fifty minutes.

This is, to an extent, achieved: the songs do move the story and characters along whilst remaining light and witty, and there is  plenty of variation. Songs can spring out of nowhere at times, considerably slowing down the pace of the plot–the Professor’s (played by Goldman) musical number towards the end of the show begins abruptly and quite awkwardly, for instance. This demonstrates the key problem I had with the play: it was difficult to tell if it was deliberately playing up its awkwardness. The lyrics were certainly well used to this end, with a wordiness and sense of timing (look out for a wonderful joke about Lapwing) that played off the musical format. Similarly, the persistent optimism of the geeks-cum-backing dancers contrasted well with the unusual songs. Singing performance was uneven, but charming enough to successfully tread the line between being awkward and endearing.

The acting of the central characters, however, is more questionable. The pace of dialogue is frustrating at times, some lines laboriously inserting themselves one after the other without enough intent. Director Abi Palmer hasn’t been able to elucidate the quick-fire timing the script could use to come alive, though the actors certainly have their moments. John King as Janice’s fellow graduate Simon is a good example, executing lines like “I have a theory…that you love me” with a sincere silliness. On the whole, however, they suffer from a surfeit of bad ticks and habits. Both Mailes and Goldman would benefit from a serious consideration of their eye-lines–the tech desk seemed to hold an intermittent fascination for the two actors–as well as rogue hand positions and  general posture. Frequent glances to the audiences and small bouts of corpsing further contributed to this awkward effect.  Ultimately it needed more energy and needed to be more focused on engagement with the audience.

No doubt this awkward style may be a part of the show’s comedy–other members of the audience  certainly embraced this aspect. Goldman’s sense of humour may not be to this reviewer’s taste, but when executed alongside more showy elements, it definitely falls flat.  Indeed, far from disliking the jokes, I found myself chuckling throughout–they are a considerably positive aspect of the show, understandable even to humanities students, but this was sadly countered by some sluggish performances.