Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Dr Laura Bailey apparently has it all, a brilliant mind, glittering academic career and the respect of her quantum mechanics peers. But behind the mind blowing science there’s a heart breaking twist.
Dr Laura Bailey is excited. Well, as excited as it is possible for a lecturer in quantum mechanics to get without sounding overly geek-like. It’s the start of the new academic year and with it the intake of students (in this case us, the audience) all eager to learn the mysteries of a subject that has taxed the great and the good of the physics world for centuries.
The cramped auditorium at Sweet Holyrood at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel looks every bit like a lecture theatre, with equations covering the basics of gravitational law, electrical attraction and repulsion and Schrodinger’s Law (the chap that had this theory about a cat, a radioactive source, a bottle of poison and a sealed box) scribbled on white boards on either side of the room.
Dr Bailey paces around with great energy as we assemble, a motley looking crew it must be said, several of whom are clearly locationally challenged, incurring a mild rebuke from the good doctor for arriving late. And not switching off their mobiles. Tchh, tchh!
So to the inaugural lecture of the academic year, and the full force of our academic’s knowledge hits us like a gale hurtling up the Firth of Forth. Her hands whirl and twirl in the absent minded manner of many an intellectual, lost in her train of thought, gabbling away like an excited schoolgirl about to embark on a trip to the seaside.
Facts, figures, equations, theorem all tumble forth in a torrent of scientific verbiage; our universe is 13.4 billion years old; we are just a small planet in a single one of the 100 billion galaxies, each thought to contain 100 billion stars. Multiply those two numbers together and you end up with a one and twenty three noughts as the number of bodies that are thought to exist. Give or take a few squillion, that is.
We are introduced to the basics of gravitational law and explore in some depth the famous double slit experiment so beloved of physicists. But it’s where we get to good old Heisenberg and his uncertainty principle that the lecture starts to slowly slide off the rails as Dr Bailey finds herself drawn to solving this and Schrodinger’s apparent paradox as she tries to rationalise the tragedy that now dominates her life. The room, noisy with the burble of an audience enjoying a dip into the unfamiliar language of the physicist, becomes eerily silent as the horrible truth emerges.
This is a masterclass in acting from Abi McLoughlin, as Dr Bailey. Completely convincing from start to emotional finish, she is word perfect, never missing a beat as she hurtles through complex scientific explanations with a certainty that most academics would struggle to match. Her grasp of the subject matter is exemplary.
Characterisation is also absolutely spot on. The contrast between her apparent confidence as the lecturer and the hesitancy and uncertainty that emerges as the proverbial knitting unravels is perfect. You can feel the audience being drawn into her world, willing her to be able to find a way out of her dilemma by proving Schrodinger’s hypothesis.
Quite how McLoughlin manages to deliver this level of physical and emotional intensity, night after night, I can’t imagine. It’s tense, poignant, haunting. Go and see it. It’s a real, genuine, hidden gem.