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Helen Arney: Voice Of An Angle
Published on Sunday, 08 July 2012

4 starsUnderground Venues, Comedy
6, 8 Jul, 6:00pm-7:00pm; 7 Jul, 7:30pm-8:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Do you have a favourite kind of triangle? Do you know why it would be funny for a computer to go to Java? Does the thought of Schrödinger's LOLcat tickle your ribs, however slightly? If you don't even understand that last question, this probably isn't the show for you. But if you're in Helen Arney's target market, you should rush down to the box office... because your type of Fringe act has finally arrived.

And there are plenty of people on Arney's wavelength, judging by the sell-out crowd which joined me at her quirky musical science show. This isn't populist narrative in the style of Helen Keen; there's unashamed intellectualism behind Arney's songs, which she accompanies (inevitably) by strumming on her ukulele. Her lyrics tackle physics, chemistry and reproductive biology - prepare to squirm - so geeks of any discipline will find plenty to enjoy, as she chirpily tots up the sum of human knowledge.

My favourite number was the one which cast the Sun as a grumpy has-been, jealous of its recently-discovered neighbours and looking forward to the day it can expand and engulf the Earth. There were some genuinely interesting insights, too - including a whimsical analysis of economic data which I'd love to debate with her afterwards - and an inspired sing-along based on number theory, which combined a handful of creative ideas to communicate just how unimaginably large some mathematical concepts can be.

The run-in to a few of the songs could be trimmed, I think, and the occasional attempts at education didn't really work - if your audience doesn't already understand quantum theory, it's a bit ambitious to try to explain it as the set-up for a one-liner. But I admire the fact that Arney, an Imperial College graduate, hasn't dumbed anything down... and I shared her obvious delight when a mixed-looking crowd proved able to laugh, groan and roll their eyes at all the right moments.

There were a few misfires, to be sure, but that's par for the course for a show that's still being fine-tuned. My more substantial quibble's over the coherence of its theme; we're told we're being inducted into a school of science and music, but the music's only really represented by the ukulele, hardly a unique selling point for this type of show. I like the core idea of a series of lessons with an exam (don't panic!) at the end, but I think she needs a clearer curriculum to build the show around.

Needless to say, she saves the best till last: an offbeat and slightly disturbing vision of one woman's quest for the future, accompanied by eye-catching animations and a full-on backing track. A whole hour like that would be too much to ask for, but it shows just how exceptional this style of humour can be. In the meantime, with a little bit of lab-coated tinkering, Arney's show seems destined for success in Edinburgh - a city, after all, that's contributed more than its share of great scientists to the world.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.