Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Join the twentieth century’s greatest scientist for an hour of wacky singalongs, high level physics, moral dilemmas, and sex jokes.
The setting of this musical comedy physics lecture is Princeton University, New Jersey in 1933, where well known German sex symbol and physicist Albert Einstein has settled after leaving Nazi Germany and wisely choosing not to return. The show combines humour, education and wistfulness in a laudable combination that we ought to see more of in Edinburgh.
The audience is welcomed in by the charming professor, who turns out to be quite the wise cracker. There is a sharp wit and slightly blue vibe to performer John Hinton’s rapport that is offset by an air of warmth and humility. It is clear that he is going to be enjoyable company. Hinton then welcomes in his co-star Jo Eagle, who plays both of Einstein’s wives and his mother, and provides the piano accompaniment to Hinton’s manic songs.
For the first half hour or so, Einstein uses song, banter and audience interaction to relate his most famous contributions to the field: the special and general theories of relativity. We are eased in gently with an explanation of the concept of the inertial reference frame (roughly to do with how fast one object is moving in relation to another). For this, a couple are invited onto the stage and asked to approach each other in various configurations; the physics concept is then illustrated through a comparison to romantic attraction. It’s less of a genuine metaphor and more an interest hook, but certainly makes it easy for the more science-averse members of the audience to plunge in. Love and sex are themes that keep cropping up, such as when he tells the story of how first wife Mileva inspired his research, in an innuendo-laden routine that could have come straight out of Carry On At The Speed Of Light. Boy, is Albert a frisky chap!
The songs are something of a mixed bag; although Hinton spits out the verbose lyrics at a truly impressive pace, his voice is sometimes lost, making them harder to follow than the spoken sections. The undoubtedly highlight is the E=MC2 rap, an irresistible offering complete with its own gansta hand gesture routine.
In the second half, the tone changes somewhat as the clock winds forward to 1939, and Einstein moves the subject on to one of greatest dilemmas. Having established that it could be possible to build a nuclear weapon, and that Hitler’s scientists are almost certainly already at work doing just that, he is faced with deciding whether to write to President Roosevelt and recommending that the US does it first. He turns the challenge onto the audience, who are predictably stumped by such a problem. The story then continues to the horrors of Hiroshima, a source of great anguish to a man that considered himself partially responsible. Although Hinton deals with this material with sensitivity and pathos, it jars somewhat after the raucous opening to the show, and could perhaps have been achieved more successfully if there were stronger hints earlier on of the darkness to come.