Rough Science : Life

By Noel Kelso

Melbourne Fringe festival throws up some unusual performances each year, some of which defy categorisation. This can be because they are just plain weird or perhaps a little unfocussed or sometimes so original that one is so overwhelmed that placing a label on the show seems like vandalism.

Sean Elliott has created a show which is part lecture, part performance piece and part comedy – some parts being more successful than others. Somewhat unusually for a Fringe performance, there are rules to this show (which may or may not be broken as the evening progresses) which Elliott asks the audience to ensure are adhered to throughout. These rules are as follows – Don’t break the equipment; No pop-culture references; No explosions and no magic. After all – this is meant to be a serious scientific lecture (yeah, right…)

As the title might suggest this is primarily about one of the biggest questions people have ever asked – ‘How did we get here?’ Sean first tries to answer this question with a reading from one of the many Creation myths before proceeding to the first ‘Act’ of the show in which we are introduced to a young girl in the early nineteenth century who collected fossils on a beach in the UK and who made perhaps the single most important find of its kind which helped inspire further study of these curiosities and inspired Wallace and Darwin’s theories on evolution.

There follow three further ‘Acts’, each preceded by a reading from a different Creation myth. The audience are introduced to such pioneers as Robert Hooke, the inventor of the microscope and Urey and Miller, who managed to boil-up the basic building blocks of life in their lab from scratch. The various gags and props along the way help to make the information being imparted less dry than it could have been in the hands of a less exuberant performer.

Elliott is primarily a science communicator and certainly knows his role well, employing techniques from stand-up, conjuring and storytelling to impart his message. This results in a show which is both funny and educational which is no mean feat. His use of props is well deployed throughout with impeccable comic timing for maximum impact and – as this was the first night – often hilariously badly behaved.

The general impression left by the show is that it is an often amusing and always entertaining lecture for those with an interest in the origins of life and how we arrived at the current understandings of what might have happened. If you feel like an evening of educational silliness then this should be right up your street.

Rough Science: Life is on at Tuxedo Cat on Wills Street until September 20th.