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FringeReview UK 2017

Low Down

Anthony Hope’s childrens’ play Seeing Stars to SweetVenues Dukebox for a brief run brought by Rust and Stardust. Projected and lit by Ed Grimoldby it features actor/director Eleanor Conlon and actor puppet-maker Katie Sommers. Costumes are by Eleanor and Pamela Conlon.


Rust and Stardust bring Anthony Hope’s Seeing Stars to SweetVenues Dukebox for a brief run, projected and lit by Ed Grimoldby featuring actor/director Eleanor Conlon and actor puppet-maker Katie Sommers. For forty rapt minutes here’s a vivid planetarium turning in a Tardis space.


The remarkably trimmed period costumes – bang on puff sixteenth century – are provided by Eleanor and Pamela Conlon. Pocket-sized props and set are provided by family members and others, a dresser opening onto wondrous books with pop-out illustrations of universities, castles, furnished with bronze globes, astrolabes, doll’s house appendages, red apples, and even – a moose turd which I thought might have featured even more.


Telling the life of astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) with his sneezeable gold nose, exploding supernovae, a moose that loves beer and the friendship between his sister Sophie (Conlon) and English astrologer John Dee’s daughter Katherine (Sommers), it makes an enthralling history for children of all ages. In this case the minimum age seems to have been eighteen months: you can never start star-gazing too young and this is an enchanting place to start. Their follow-up on Isaac Newton shouldn’t be missed.


Conlon and Somers begin in darkness lit by a mapping of stars and formations playing over them and the cabinet between, their soprano voices pitched at a perfect interval for blending something adult into the not-quite nursery rhymes that dice Latin names with astronomical novelties.


We’re pitched into the puppet Tycho Brahe, his education and a flapping of books popping up a plethora of schooling and universities where Sophie’s left behind but masters Latin anyway. The comedy of Brahe’s bragging costing him his nose (cue another puppet) is handled with comic aplomb (will his gold nose droop and all in the soup?). Rhyming farcically like that Hope’s script brings zing and snap to a narrative that might seem abstruse. It never is here.


Rivalries between a house dwarf and Eric the beer-drinking mousse (really!) relieve the essentially humdrum existence of an astronomer who lived in two cities. Minor scatological and other jokes push a sixteenth-century high-tech ride through the noting of comets, supernovae and mapping of over 1,000 stars that Brahe pioneered. All through the naked eye and use of astrolabes.


We’re caught on the airborne poise of these actors like a solar wind. The continual flux of Brahe’s life is brought out as comic incident. A new king Christian IV of Denmark proves ungenerous, Brahe loses his salary and castle, trundles to Prague (despite Katherine’s warnings) where every other scientist resides: King Rudolph II loves alchemy; he’s also stark mad. Something of the medieval fabulous seeps into storytelling here: neither script not actors lose a beat.


Though it’s lightly etched in, anyone will go away with a sense of how Copernicus started modern astronomy (earth round sun), how Brahe mapped it, together with a hint on Brahe’s collaborations with his successor Johannes Kepler and the telescope ‘inventor’ Galileo. Nothing’s too stolid, punchy verbs and nouns describe parallax or telescopes – and we have doll-size replicas to knock someone’s eye out with; a comic visual analogue to basic science.


And finally how Eric the mousse discovered gravity munching apples that fermented, giving him visions. What he did about it – well – you can find out with Rust and Stardust’s show on Isaac Newton. This is serious fun, lightly handled. Enchanting, informative and exhilarating in equal measure; Conlon and Sommers’ singing sets a magical seal on this star-breaking look at the universe.