Fringe Online 2021
Written and performed by Jack Klaff. Jack Klaff has held professorships at Princeton University and Starlab. Jack’s long list of credits in all media includes several appearances at JST, most recently The Ice Cream Boys; his first movie role was in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Advisors are Colin Watkeys, Dr Patricia Morris, Karim Palant, Andy Wilson, Anna Furse, Dafne Louzioti.
Camera work from several angles (Director Mark Swadel, Operator Balazs Weidner), including seventy-five degrees overhead, are deftly sequenced. Till July 31st.
Some of us last saw Jack Klaff at JST in Gail Louw’s masterly The Ice Cream Boys in October 2019. Here he returns to talk of his own experiences towards the end of this not quite sane but brilliant JST Footprints Festival.
Klaff’s 41st of 43 productions since mid-May. He’s grown a beard and looks like a Blake prophet, one who gets pent in a tiny space. He points to it as if time-travelling back to 1998. ‘I’m not Kilroy Silk, Dennis Neilsen, Uncle Bulgaria, Ernest Hemingway. Captain Birdseye… I’m doing Charles Dickens…’ And later Proust’s invoked. That’s time for you.
Though beard aside Klaff looks like Laurence Sterne (1713-68), the master of never getting started and digressing in Tristram Shandy. And the discoverer of print black holes (Penguin, page 62…). Klaff needs to come back to Shandy Hall. Sterne’s a black hole that needs filling.
If you call it The Whole Shebang you’re asking for it to begin. It’s not going to, no-one knows when it starts. So actor, writer, Arty Type Klaff, got appointed Professor of the Public Understanding of Science in a think-tank in Brussels, or more at an international, multidisciplinary think-tank. ‘It’s a mind fuck. Do you care if I swear?’
And Klaff shares the secret – that this is live but on Tuesday. You might see it on another night but it’s ‘Hello from Tuesday’ as Klaff gets the audience to greet everyone in the future. And theatrically this is about connection. When Shakespeare in Henry VI/2 has the thrilling line: ‘First thing we do let’s kill all the lawyers’ of the 1450 Jack Cade rebellion, he gets cheered from the groundlings, but there’s lawyers twitching in rich seats above. Depends where you’re siting from. Hold that thought groundling.
‘Jack’s hilarious, thrilling and touching travels through countless futuristic ideas and technologies offered up magical, easy-to-understand insights about Atoms, Bytes, Cells and Days.’ That’s the blurb. They don’t add he swears all the time. Thank F….
‘As this millennium began, Jack Klaff …’ says the blurb. ‘You want me to do what?’ says Klaff.
So why? How to Bluff Your Way in Quantum Physics Klaff wrote, ‘100 pages of well-compressed bullshit’. His Professorship at Princeton isn’t what they think. The Belgians are unfazed. He’ll be one step behind all the scientists who are bullshitting.
And the Belgians rounds on postmodernists who talk of the privilege of time and pseudo-science. It’s worse than bullshitting, it’s dangerous, reducing science to memes: Baudrillard, Deleuze, Guattari, (Foucault just seems to get off though.) Seems the late 20th century crop of French philosophes, for which the Anglophone world has no equivalent, veered off science once it seemed unable to comprehend it sub-atomically.
So we travel back to 1998, and then forward to 2001. ‘Twenty years after its sell-out Edinburgh run, it’s time to find out whether Jack’s colleagues, all world-class ‘experts’, were appallingly wrong or amazingly right.’
‘Do you know the word shebang…? I want you to use the word as an acronym’ said the unfazed Belgian professor. ‘Yes already you are used to us… and this is not an English word.’ Klaff declines to tell us what the acronym is, it’s confusing. But:
There are three areas of science and technology which will affect us for generations. And they’re interrelated. He’s adding a fourth.
Atoms – atoms are power, computing. Physics, the very very small and big. Einstein, Newton et al.
Bytes – units of information, small entities of information. And withing the study and technology of counting and all the computing, relatively recently, and Artificial Intelligence, robotics, and how we’re gong to interact with them generally.
Cells – medicine and biology, life, information and knowledge, and the universe.
Days – the idea of days having the first three because with cells we’re living longer and longer, even forever according to some. ‘To expect a flower to live forever is an insult to a flower.’ Dangerous.
‘My father was a watchmaker’, Klaff tells us. ‘He fixed Mandela’s clock shortly before he went to prison.’ Klaff repeating it, proud of this, till a friend riposted. ‘So now we know why the revolution took so long… to be noticed.’
The professor says we want to extend time, and to Klaff’s admiring the wine and saying ‘In America if you drink wine at lunch you’re an alcoholic’ and the professor riposted. ‘In Europe if you don’t you’re an alcoholic.’ Somehow we get to cuckoo clocks, with slow food slow approach to life… ‘Jack I’m telling you now I want to you to join this place where 100 years means nothing. Give me an answer by Tuesday.’
Princeton intervenes. And Professor Dyson, the fourth man of the Richard Feynman (of ‘surely you’re joking Mr Feynman’ fame) team who should have shared the Nobel prize with them but Nobel count only to three. A pity, Dyson did all the maths. Like Klaff he has no PhD. He needs storytellers.
Encountering naff and unconvincing types he was went to The Matrix, a compulsory film from the lab. Each time he lunches he’s interrogated by angry physicists. Why is he? He starts slow ambient talking ‘working with brilliant people’ he thinks he’s on a roll. ‘Yeah I liked Kennedy’s inaugural too….’ They then put him on the rack. But they ask him to write with them… The Whole Shebang! Later he’s asked to buy myrrh for one for his marriage, and frankincense (he bought gold too) and the other asks for a Buddha.
And they come up with their own impressive philosophes: ‘Only mediocrity’s at its best all the time.’ ‘Time doesn’t pass. It stays where it is. We pass.’ ‘Do unto others – quickly.’
Warning: anti-officialdom (and Klaff assures us he’s pro Europe) and we get a fragment of shebang…. It’s not explicable though the first fragment involves string theory (aside: Feynman hated String Theory, but we don’t get that!). And in the middle his four-year-old daughter pleads for his return, alternating four days, in London and four days in Europe. Chocolate, Belgian chocolate helps. His daughter suddenly said: ‘I want the fun-fair after the chocolate!’ The family came to understand.
Klaff sums up though following the logic here is sketchy since he spends unequal time on his four topics.
The point though of scientific enquire is itself elusive. Feynman says ‘we get what we test for’ and Newton – he lived up the road, 87 Jermyn Street. Light is particles. The Rosetta stone man says waves. We know it’s both. After a singing exercise in delay (to prove the observer bit) Einstein’s non-locality principle is put forward but we’ve not proven it yet. The biographer of Einstein and Neils Bohr – the quantum theory and the latter quantum mechanics. Einstein died alone as was his wish, Bohr with his wife.
One scientist wrote an anti-bullshit book on postmodern nonsense. But with ‘non-locality’ we might edge to the truth.
So bytes, and the possibility of weaving computing in clothes, from Womens’ Hour. What it’s about is either those opposing computers and those who need them. Then meeting a near madman. A blond Kafka type. Then Douglas Englebart (another who died recently) who foresaw in 1968 hyperlinks and internet. Use them for good.
So the Olympics. Living cellular lives in a universe we can function in forever. Not age or age?
So do we want to live forever? Reality as we see it is our brain sorting out our motion. Reality is something we can’t grasp, should we live forever.
Enriquez the youngest was treated as an equal, had something to present, no-one cares about appearances – earrings, black jeans, whatever. With Klaff the joke was that he was a protein investigator, now in fact a big topic. Enriquez. ‘I love science man, I love this stupid shit.’ Which is when the lab went bankrupt. The lab went bankrupt exactly 20 years ago. Exists still doing research in Barcelona on sleep, but the essential work is gone. They had 30 minutes to grab their stuff download and get out, he to Brighton and London.
Of the scientists one became an astronaut, several passed away. Quarterly monies etc weren’t their concern and that was a bit of a downfall: finance.
So for Klaff it’s another landmark. 20 years ago this lab because people didn’t want to listen to it and 50 years ago his father in his arms through a doctor’s incompetence, not listening to common sense. His mother died a few years ago with fading memory, hence his invoking Proust. For this sake and for his son who did the lighting once and his daughter who wanted the fair after the chocolate.
Klaff retells the end speech, the men, the women several of whom were pregnant, all to come up with something amazing. Harvard and Yale went bust but work here will survive…. And Jack? Where is Jack? Jack will tell the story.’ And so he has.
Klaff invokes: ‘There is no path. We make the path by walking’ Antonio Machado (1875-1939) possibly the greatest Spanish poet of the century, recorded in his sad wisdom. He ended dying in the Pyrenees having fled Franco on foot.
The outro song is Reynaldo Hahn’s Bachian a Chloris, a song of genius written by an exquisite composer (1874-1947) who was first Proust’s lover then his lifelong friend. Somewhere between Machado and Hahn we might find the exit.
If we’re expecting Ken Campbell’s supreme circularity, it’s not quite like that. Though Klaff could have so easily emerged from Campbell’s The Warp like The Matrix he does invoke as the scientists’ Rosetta stone of metaphor around 2000, and the Star Wars movie he started out in. Stories are circular. The end but not beginning was promised and we certainly get an end. At 85 minutes one feels as if there should have been an interval and a second half…. of 85 minutes.
If you can, I’m saying from Tuesday, no, shouting from Tuesday. See it again!!!!!