Gilded Balloon Teviot (venue website)
6-30 Aug (not 10), 1:15pm (2:15pm)
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory
Helen Keen is just lovely: bumbling and enthusiastic. This show about the history of space travel feels like a lecture given by a young fogey of a professor... a lecture, yes, but also very funny. Keen is a decent stand-up, with solid material and jokes twined around her science story.
Her low-tech show about hi-tech has already been a huge success. A hit at last year's Fringe, followed up by non-stop touring at science and art festivals, it's even now been picked up by Radio Four. This new version (V2) remixed the old show with material developed for the radio; I hadn't seen the old show, so I don't know how much was fresh, but it was certainly fascinating.
Keen's story of Rocket Science takes us to the early twentieth century - to the men and women forming 1920's Rocket Clubs and proclaiming “Onwards to Mars”. Later, we hear how during WW2 napalm was invented as an explosive to be carried by bats. The bats would be cooled until they began to hibernate, then dropped on Japan, where the warmth of the sun would revive them and they would roost somewhere... until, KABOOM. How surprising that the plan was never put into operation; funding was diverted into the atomic bomb.
And, way before Brian Cox - who Keen perfectly describes as the Nigella of space - a guy called Jack Whitehead Parson was a rocket-science pin up. Unfortunately, he turned out to also be a satanist. And as Keen points out, most of the early NASA scientists were from the German Second World War investigation into rockets as potential weapons; if this collision of Nazis and Satanists sounds familiar, Keen will explain just where you've heard it before.
The show's complex and uplifting conclusion is that Rocket Science really only persisted (unlike the bat-bombs) because it fitted into nuclear technology. And so, science can bring us together or smash us apart - actually apart, into our component atoms.
Then Keen dresses up as a rocket. Pulling a mass of day-glo satin over her head, she explains that what she is doing is a 'sort of reverse burlesque.' As someone who studiously avoids anything where I might see nipple tassels (they just look painful - it makes me squirm) and also someone who completely loved this studious show, I think reverse burlesque is the perfect description. Let's put more clothes on, and talk about science.
Onwards, to Radio Four!